In a recent paper in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, called Consumer awareness and attitudes related to new potential reduced exposure tobacco product brands, Parascandola et al. write about the response to tobacco products being marketed as possibly safer products (referred to as PREPs). These would include anything from modified cigarettes to smokeless forms of tobacco.
It is immaterial for this discussion as to how successful these products are at reducing harm. The point it that this is their aim and that it is possible that they do so.
When I first scanned this paper, the following passage presented itself as a perfect example of the cognitive barriers being maintained in this area, all couched in the reasonable detached tone of typical academic prose.
Our findings suggest that there is substantial awareness of PREPs among U.S. adults, although prevalence of use of these products remains relatively low. However, interest in PREPs among current smokers is very high. Of particular concern is that “ health conscious ” smokers may be especially vulnerable to PREP marketing messages; half of those who tried a PREP did so to reduce harm or assist in quitting, and interest in PREPs was higher among smokers who view themselves at higher risk for lung cancer. At the same time, interest was higher among daily smokers not currently considering quitting and among those who exhibited more fatalistic attitudes toward their ability to prevent cancer.
Additionally, the finding that individuals who are interested in PREPs are concerned about their health but also pessimistic about their ability to quit suggests that there is a segment of smokers not being reached successfully by current tobacco control efforts who are vulnerable to marketing of PREPs. It is important to identify the barriers to quitting in this group and to be aware of the impact PREPs may have on quitting behavior.
No sense of raving prohibitionists going on here but the message is the same.
The authors are concerned that 1. smokers who are most concerned about their health are more likely to consider healthier alternatives to their current behavior (this is a “mastering the obvious” kind of insight or a Simpsonion Duh point depending on your orientation), 2. smokers who have not been able to quit are more attracted to alternatives to quitting (also obvious) and here is where it gets funny 3. people who cannot quit smoking will not quit smoking because they have alternatives.
I particularly enjoyed the line about health conscious smokers being “vulnerable to the marketing of PREPs” just like if I get sick I am vulnerable to the marketing of medicine that might alleviate my condition. It is so patently wrong that healthier products should be aimed at and considered by people looking for healthier products.
The conclusion is most telling in that instead of acknowledging that people are productively pursuing healthier alternatives, this is seen as a failure in tobacco control. In a sense, that is true, in that somehow these smokers have slipped through the ideological SuperMax that tobacco control has built and actually possess enough imaginationl to consider alternatives.
There is nothing wrong with quitting as long as it is acknowledged that it may not work for everyone and that for those people there should be alternatives.
-Paul L. Bergen