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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Explores Perceptions of E-cigarette Warning Statements

Cigarette warning labels serve as one of the main sources of smoking risk information for consumers. While previous research has guided the design of cigarette warning labels to increase their effectiveness, limited research exists on labeling for other tobacco products. Recently, the FDA required that e-cigarettes begin carrying one nicotine addiction warning, but individual states and e-cigarette manufacturers can choose to add additional statements. Trends show that e-cigarette consumption is on the rise, especially amongst young adults, but no current research exists to guide the development of effective e-cigarette warnings.

Head Shots

[Photo: Dr. Olivia Wackowski]

In a seminal study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Dr. Olivia Wackowski, assistant professor of health education and behavioral science at the Rutgers School of Public Health, documented reactions to varying types of e-cigarette warning statements.

Dr. Wackowski conducted six small in-person focus groups with participants’ ages 19 to 58, who were current e-cigarette users or cigarette smokers. Study participants were asked to discuss their perceptions of six different e-cigarette warnings and two existing e-cigarette ads that carried their own voluntary warnings. Participants were receptive to e-cigarette warnings and provided the strongest reactions to statements warning that e-liquid/e-vapor or e-cigarettes can be poisonous, contain toxins, or are “not a safe alternative to smoking”. However, many also noted that these statements were exaggerated, potentially misleading, and could scare smokers away from reducing their harm by switching to e-cigarettes. Opinions were mixed on the FDA’s proposed nicotine addiction warning and warnings that e-cigarettes had not been approved for smoking cessation or had unknown health effects.

This study examined perceptions of different e-cigarette warning statements and provided insight into the unique challenges of developing them given e-cigarettes’ harm-reduction potential relative to tobacco cigarettes. Although e-cigarette warnings may inform about their potential risks, the results of this study also suggest that certain e-cigarette warnings may deter some smokers from switching to e-cigarettes, thus offsetting their harm reduction potential.   Results also support policy guidelines for how warnings should be visually formatted.

“Smokers’ and E-Cigarette Users’ Perceptions about E-Cigarette Warning Statements” was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.