Communicating Risk

Posted 21st November 2019 by Dave Cross
A team from the Centre for Addictive Behaviours Research at London South Bank University (LSBU) has published a report looking at the impact of health warnings provided on vape products. The study was funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

The study investigated the effects of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive [EU-TPD] Article 20 E-cigarette health warnings and compared them to a warning stating relative harm when compared to smoking. E.g. “This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance. [It is not recommended for non-smokers.]”) vs. “Use of this product is much less harmful than smoking”.

The team looked at responses from 2495 UK residents, made up from 1283 smokers and 1212 non-smokers. They looked at “self-reported perceived harm, addictiveness, e-cigarette effectiveness, social acceptability, and intentions to purchase and use e-cigarettes”. In smokers, they noted “intentions to quit and intentions to use e-cigarettes in future quit attempts.” These were measured before and after exposure to e-cigarette images containing either the TPD, relative harm, TPD + relative harm or no message at all.

They found that “non-smokers had higher harm, addictiveness and lower social acceptability perceptions”, and that TPD messages increased fears while harm reduced messages “decreased, harm and addictiveness perceptions in both groups.”

They concluded that while the TPD message might be useful in combatting smoking, the relative harm message was far more successful in reducing fears about switching to vaping from cigarette use – and did so without increasing attractiveness to smoke.

Lead author Lynne Dawkins, Professor of nicotine and tobacco studies at LSBU, said: “Ultimately, if more smokers switch to e-cigarettes, there will be fewer smoking-related deaths and diseases.”

The Electronic Cigarette Company

Kruti Shrotri, tobacco control manager at CRUK, said: “E-cigarettes are a relatively new product – we strongly discourage non-smokers from using them as they aren’t risk-free, and we don’t yet know their long-term impact.”

“But research so far shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco and can help people to stop smoking. This study helps to build the evidence around what can be done to help smokers quit tobacco by switching to e-cigarettes, while ensuring non-smokers don’t start using them.”


  • “Communicating the relative health risks of E-cigarettes: An online experimental study exploring the effects of a comparative health message versus the EU nicotine addiction warnings on smokers’ and non-smokers’ risk perceptions and behavioural intentions” by Dawkins et al. – [link]

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, motorbikes, and dog walker
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