Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Indications from Indy That Snus is a Viable Cigarette Substitute

Indianapolis is the quintessential Midwest American city, and it has served as a test market of Swedish-style snus by the two largest American cigarette manufacturers. In 2006 Philip Morris launched a test market for Taboka snus in Indy (in 2008 it was discontinued when Marlboro snus was launched). In 2007 Indy was one of several expansion markets for RJ Reynolds’ Camel Snus; that product went on to national distribution earlier this year.

Lois Biener and Karen Bogen, from the University of Massachusetts Center for Survey Research, analyzed data from the 2006-7 Indiana Adult Tobacco Survey, and their recently published study provides some valuable information.

Biener and Bogen reported that almost 20% of survey respondents throughout Indiana were aware of snus. Awareness among smokers statewide was 44%, which was 4.5 times higher than awareness among non-smokers.

Awareness among respondents in central Indiana (i.e. around Indianapolis) was 29%. More importantly, about 64% of male smokers in central Indiana had heard about snus, and 20% had tried it. This is evidence that Philip Morris and Reynolds were targeting adult male smokers in their test-market campaigns, and that the manufacturers were fairly successful.

Biener and Bogen also reported that risk perception played an important role in getting people to try snus. Respondents who correctly believed that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than cigarettes were almost 4 times as likely to try snus as those who had been misinformed about the differential risks. Unfortunately, this study revealed that 88% of all respondents had been misinformed, so they incorrectly believed that smokeless tobacco was just as dangerous as cigarettes.

Biener and Bogen offer some perceptive comments on the sad state of smoker misinformation:

“Both marketing and health education messages should include the information that all tobacco products are harmful and that abstinence from all tobacco products is the most healthful choice. At the same time, simply saying that smokeless tobacco is ‘not safe’ is not a sufficient stance for public health communications. There is a recognized continuum of risk along which various tobacco products can be placed, with low-nitrosamine smokeless tobacco products much lower on the risk continuum than combustible tobacco, although it is not harmless. Devising an effective way to inform the public about the continuum should be an important research priority, as currently consumers are woefully incorrect in their assessments of relative risk of various tobacco products. This state of affairs could result in people deciding not to give up smoking in favor of a product lower on the risk continuum because they assume that all tobacco products are equally harmful.”

Biener and Bogen mention that information about differential risks of smokeless and smoking have appeared in the media, and they cite a 2006 article by Kevin Helliker in the Wall Street Journal. That article remains the most well researched and best written description of tobacco harm reduction, and it can be found here.

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