In a new commentary published in the scientific journal Addiction, FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products Director Brian King, Ph.D., M.P.H., discusses opportunities and considerations for educating adults who smoke cigarettes about the relative risks of tobacco products. Dr. King co-authored the article with Benjamin Toll, Ph.D., director of the Medical University of South Carolina Tobacco Treatment Program and co-director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program.
The commentary highlights the findings of a recent survey about misperceptions of tobacco product harms, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes. The survey found that only about 20% of adults who smoke cigarettes believed e-cigarettes contain fewer harmful chemicals than cigarettes. While there are no safe tobacco products, the available scientific evidence indicates that tobacco products exist on a continuum of risk, with cigarettes being the most harmful.
The commentary notes that opportunities exist to educate adults who smoke about the relative risks of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. However, these efforts should be accompanied by efforts to prevent youth tobacco product use; encourage first-line use of FDA-approved cessation therapies; and for adults who both smoke and use e-cigarettes, reinforce the importance of completely transitioning to e-cigarettes. Because no tobacco product is safe, the eventual goal should be quitting all tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes.
The commentary further emphasizes that any education efforts on the relative risks of tobacco products must be evidence-based. In particular, it is important to assess the benefits among the intended population (i.e., adults who smoke) and risks among unintended populations (e.g., youth). Currently, FDA is in the early stages of a research effort to assess messaging about the continuum of risk of tobacco products among adults who smoke. This is in addition to FDA’s continued work to prevent youth tobacco product initiation, including through “The Real Cost” public education campaign.