IHRP Study Examines Attitudes Toward Smokeless Tobacco

12/01/2008

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is funding an IHRP researcher to help them communicate with the public about the harmful use of smokeless tobacco. 

The CDC has asked Sherry Emery, an IHRP economist who focuses on tobacco research, to test people’s awareness of new smokeless tobacco products, their openness to trying them and their response to public health warnings of the products’ harm. 

As more U.S. communities ban smoking in public, the tobacco industry is investing more in the development and marketing of smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff, dip and chewing tobacco. 

In 2005, tobacco manufacturers spent a record-breaking $251 million on advertising and marketing these products. The industry is now promoting new forms of smokeless tobacco designed to be attractive alternatives to traditional “chew.” For example, one product, called Snus, is a moist powder that can be ingested without spitting. 

“The new smokeless tobacco products are being marketed to nonsmokers as well as smokers who may be trying to quit the habit, as a ‘less harmful’ and ‘cool’ option,” said Dr. Emery. “We will test the messages that CDC has created to counter these promotional strategies, and assess whether these messages resonate with the target audiences.” 

About 3% of U.S. adults use smokeless tobacco while 8% of high school students and 3% of middle school students use it. Adolescents who use smokeless tobacco are more likely to become cigarette smokers. 

“There is a prevalent idea that smokeless tobacco products are not as harmful as ones that have to be smoked. This viewpoint can lead to an increase in the use of these products,” Dr. Emery said. 

Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer and can lead to nicotine addiction. The year-long study will have two phases. During the first phase, messages designed for the general public will be tested through 15 focus groups in five cities. Participants will be selected from two age groups, 18 to 24 years and 24 to 64 years, in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Charlotte. In the second phase, members of the media will be interviewed to test messages designed specifically for them. 

Dr. Emery said after she completes the study, the CDC plans to adapt messages based on her research and disseminate them to the media and state health departments.

This news release was written by Antara Das, a research assistant in the Illinois Prevention Research Center and a graduate student in the UIC Department of Communication.