Smokeless tobacco products (SLT) are at the center of a harm reduction debate in the tobacco control community, with some arguing that SLT can be a less harmful alternative for smokers and others worried that such promotion may be misinterpreted as meaning that SLT is "safe" resulting in harmful population level consequences. The recent growth of SLT and marketing of new types of SLT products by cigarette companies as smoking alternatives has made the debate a more relevant public health issue. In addition, the 2009 law giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco created a path for companies to potentially market these products in the future as "modified risk," but the FDA is just beginning to develop these new policies. Despite the fact that consensus is lacking on how to communicate the relative risks of SLT, our research indicates that messages about SLT's risk reduction potential are currently being communicated through the news media and thus may already be influencing people's SLT knowledge and beliefs. Our research also indicates that SLT risk information in the news is expressed in a variety of different ways. Given the potential influence of SLT information on smokers'risk perceptions and attitudes towards trying or switching to SLT, research is needed to investigate if and how these varying risk messages might impact readers, especially smokers. Therefore, this mixed methods R03 research study, in response to PAR-12-035, aims to better understand smokers'interpretations of and potential reactions to SLT information presented in news stories. Specifically we will 1) conduct in-depth interviews with smokers to explore their interpretations of different SLT news story messages and risk information and 2) experimentally examine the impact of different SLT messages on smokers'perceptions of and interest in new SLT products. Overall, this research can provide important insight into the potential impact of tobacco news messages on the public, an understudied area, and valuable clues as to how smokers might respond to different SLT risk messages more generally, a timely and policy relevant research area in which the FDA has expressed interest.
This research aims to explore smokers'interpretations of and reactions to SLT information in news stories. It can provide important insight into the potential impact of tobacco news messages on the public and valuable policy-relevant clues as to how smokers might respond to different SLT risk messages more generally.