Introduction: In recent years, there has been a proliferation of potential reduced-exposure tobacco products (PREPs) marketed that claim to be less harmful or less addictive, compared with conventional cigarettes. Tobacco control scientists have raised concerns about the potential adverse impact of marketing of these products for smoking prevention and cessation efforts. Although these products have not been widely used among smokers, there are few data available on consumers' awareness and attitudes toward these products.
Methods: Data were obtained from the 2003 and 2005 Health Information National Trends Survey, a nationally representative telephone survey of adults 18 years and older regarding health communication and associated beliefs and behaviors. Our study population consisted of 6,369 respondents in 2003 and 5,586 respondents in 2005, of whom 19% were current smokers and 28% were former smokers.
Results: In 2005, 45% of respondents had heard of at least one PREP product, while only 4.8% had actually tried one. Awareness and use were substantially higher among current smokers (55.6% and 12.7%). Awareness was highest for Marlboro Ultra Smooth (MUS) (30.2%), Eclipse (18.2%), Quest (7.8%), and Ariva (5.4%), while less than 2% for any other product. Of respondents who had tried a PREP, 50% cited harm reduction or assistance in quitting as a reason for trying the product and 30% believed that the product was less harmful than their usual brand. In the combined 2003 and 2005 dataset, 54.4% of current smokers stated that they would be "very" or "somewhat" interested in trying a cigarette advertised as less harmful, while only 3.2% of former smokers and 1.1% of never-smokers were interested. Among current smokers, interest was higher in females and non-Hispanic Whites, and among daily smokers, those who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day and those who were not considering quitting. Smokers interested in PREPs were substantially more likely to rate their perceived lung cancer risk as high (40.3% vs. 8.3%) and to worry frequently about developing lung cancer (19.7% vs. 4%).
Discussion: These results suggest that there is a substantial level of interest among current smokers in cigarettes marketed with claims of reduced exposure or harm. Of particular concern is that "health conscious" smokers and heavy smokers not planning to quit may be especially vulnerable to PREP marketing messages and view such products as an alternative to smoking cessation.