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Byron, M. Justin; Hall, Marissa G.; King, Jessica L.; Ribisl, Kurt M.; & Brewer, Noel T. (2019). Reducing Nicotine without Misleading the Public: Descriptions of Cigarette Nicotine Level and Accuracy of Perceptions about Nicotine Content, Addictiveness, and Risk. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 21(Suppl. 1), S101-107. PMCID: PMC6939779


SIGNIFICANCE: The public incorrectly believes very low nicotine content (VLNC) cigarettes are less carcinogenic than current cigarettes, a belief associated with lower motivation to quit under a VLNC standard. We examined how different descriptions of the nicotine level in VLNC cigarettes affect the accuracy of the public's perceptions about nicotine content, addictiveness, and cancer risk.
METHODS: Participants were a national convenience sample of 1353 US adults (22% smokers). In an online experiment, we randomized participants to a VLNC description using (1) concise language; (2) a percentage; (3) an interpretation; (4) a percentage and interpretation; (5) a percentage and a pictograph; or (6) a percentage, interpretation, and pictograph; or to a control description using (7) FDA's "minimally or nonaddictive" phrasing. We assessed accuracy of perceived nicotine content, addictiveness, and cancer risk compared to current cigarettes.
RESULTS: Compared to control, the percentage description resulted in more accurate perceptions about nicotine content (76% vs. 49% accuracy) and addictiveness (44% vs. 34%), but less accurate perceptions about cancer risk (56% vs. 68%; all ps < .05). Adding interpretation or pictographs to the percentage description did not increase accuracy. The concise language description reduced accuracy of perceived nicotine content and addictiveness but increased accuracy of cancer risk (all ps < .05).
CONCLUSIONS: Stating that 95% of nicotine would be removed more accurately conveyed the nicotine content and addictiveness of VLNC cigarettes. However, descriptions that better conveyed nicotine content and addictiveness misled people about cancer risk.
IMPLICATIONS: Implementation of a VLNC standard should include plans for a communication campaign that conveys that VLNC cigarettes will be less addictive but equally toxic to smoke. Stating the percent reduction in nicotine is likely to more clearly communicate reduced addictiveness but may also exacerbate risk misperceptions. VLNC communication requires further study to ensure the public accurately understands a VLNC standard.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Nicotine & Tobacco Research


Byron, M. Justin
Hall, Marissa G.
King, Jessica L.
Ribisl, Kurt M.
Brewer, Noel T.