Risk Perceptions About Tobacco-Free Nicotine Products

UK groups set out to correct misinformation about non-combustible nicotine products.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a warning on vaping products and nicotine pouches: “This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.” While products containing synthetic nicotine carry the warning: ”This product contains tobacco-free nicotine (TFN).”

The US study titled, “Including the term ‘tobacco-free nicotine’ in the nicotine addiction warning label mandated by the US Food and Drug Administration alters risk perceptions and use intentions,” looked into how this latter label affects the risk perceptions and intentions of use of tyhe products, and what the resulting public health implications may be.

The research team asked 1000 people to look at different warnings on nicotine products. These participants were asked to rate how addictive they thought the products were and how inclined they were to use them. The majority of the participants said that the  ‘tobacco-free nicotine’ warning made the products seem less addictive, however it did not make the participants more likely to want to use the products.

On the other hand, some younger and vulnerable groups, said that this new label made them feel like the products were less harmful and made them more likely to use them. While a quarter of the participants thought that this new label actully indicated more harm, with under 21’s reporting being less likely to pick products with the TFN label.

The researchers concluded that the FDA-mandated ‘tobacco-free nicotine’ label may negatively impact public health, and urged the FDA to stick to the original required warning label. Sadly this study, just like many others, does not address the fact that non-combustible nicotine products are significanlty lower in risk than their combustible counterparts, and that therefore any perceptions of lower risk would be accurate.

UK vape association launches campaign aimed to correct misinformation
Across the ocean, the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) has launched a campaign with the aim of addressing such misperceptions. The group is committed to supporting a responsible vaping sector as an ally to both the government and individuals in their smoking cessation journey. The IBVTA backs the government’s strategy for a smoke-free UK by 2030, with the potential to save the NHS over £500 million annually if half of England’s adult smokers switched to vapes.

An IBVTA survey found that vaping played a significant role in the smoking cessation journey of many. However, there has been a surge in negative perceptions about vaping despite its proven 95% safety in comparison to smoking, even in the UK. To counter this misinformation, the group has launched a national campaign, addressing concerns about vaping, such as illicit products, youth vaping, and environmental responsibility.

The IBVTA highlights that providing accurate and evidence-based information about vaping is crucial, in order to facilitate informed decisions about it as a means to quit smoking for the 6.4 million current smokers in the UK.

The National Health Service’s vape myth busting quest
Similarly, as the UK government is focusing on addressing underage and disposable vaping through the proposed Tobacco and Vapes Bill, the National Health Service (NHS), has provided myth-busting facts about vapes with the aim of correcting some of the misinformation about the products.

The NHS has emphasized that while vaping is not completely harmless, it poses a small fraction of the risks associated with smoking, and the chemicals in cigarettes, including those causing cancer, are largely absent in vape aerosol. The NHS highlighted the relative harmlessness of nicotine and reiterated that vaping is an effective tool for smoking cessation, surpassing other nicotine replacement therapies.

Dispelling the myth that switching to vaping merely replaces one harmful addiction with another, the NHS emphasized that vaping is far less harmful than smoking due to lower toxin exposure. While addressing concerns about vaping frequency, the NHS clarified that vaping is different from smoking in how nicotine is delivered to the brain.

The NHS referred the myth about “popcorn lung,” emphasizing that there has not been one single reported case of the condition among vapers, and added that there is also no evidence of harm to bystanders, unlike second-hand smoke from cigarettes. Lastly, discussing misconceptions about disposable vapes, the NHS highlighted that each device contains a similar amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes, not 40 or 50, as some claim.

The UK government’s efforts to regulate vaping, particularly to protect children, include restricting vape flavours, regulating point-of-sale displays, controlling vape packaging and presentation, and restricting the sale of disposable vapes. The proposed legislation aims to create the first smoke-free generation, with the goal of reducing smoking rates to zero among 14 to 30-year-olds by 2040.