Importance Philip Morris International (PMI) is seeking the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authorization to market IQOS as a modified risk tobacco product and making marketing claims of reduced risk and reduced exposure. Such claims may be misunderstood by youth, thereby increasing their risk for tobacco initiation.
Objective To assess youth (mean age 19.3, SD=1.7) understanding and perceptions of PMI’s proposed consumer marketing claims of reduced risk and reduced exposure, we embedded a randomized controlled experiment into a survey of 450 California youth (April to August 2018). Participants were randomized to see ‘reduced exposure,’ ‘reduced risk’ or neither claim. Perceptions of IQOS-related health risks and general harm and understanding of the term ‘switching completely’ as used in PMI’s proposed claims were compared.
Results Mean expectancies to experience specific health risks did not differ by claim exposure. The reduced exposure group’s perceptions of general harm did not differ from those of controls nor from the reduced risk group. The reduced risk group had the largest proportion who perceived IQOS as moderately/less harmful (n=78, 52%); controls the largest proportion perceiving IQOS as quite/extremely harmful (n=91, 63%). While 71% of the sample understood the term ‘switch completely’ correctly as used in the reduced risk (n=194, 71%) and reduced exposure (n=206, 72%) claims, more than 1 in 4 did not.
Conclusions FDA and other regulators must use caution when considering allowing claims of reduced risk or reduced exposure to appear on retail tobacco packaging. Youth misunderstand such claims, and misperceptions of harm are known to lead to tobacco-use initiation.