A recent experimental study conducted and Popova L and Ling PM about the responses of nonsmokers to the ecig warning labels are misrepresented, according to several experts. Among the best tobacco control practice mandated in the US are graphic warning labels on cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco products like electronic cigarettes, however, are not required to carry the graphic warning labels, but are aggressively marketed including reduced harm or FDA approved messages.

‘Nonsmokers’ responses to new warning labels on smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes: an experimental study’ is an online experiment involving 483 American nonsmokers who randomly viewed printed advertisement for the moist snuff, electronic cigarettes and snus. The main results measure the included changes in perceived harm, openness to using, positive attitudes towards and the interest in free samples.

The researchers concluded that regulatory agencies should not allow the lower risk warning labels that have effects similar to that of FDA approved labels. They said that regulators must consider the implementation of graphic warning labels on ecigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.

Ethically Flawed

According to Carl Phillips of the The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the paper has fatal ethical flaws. Its methodology also had no chance of showing anything helpful and its presentation is focused on the policy preferences of the authors instead of on the study.

Fundamental ethical flaws should have prevented this paper from being published at all. Some of the study subjects were deceived through disturbing text and visual images depicting that products caused dangers that they actually do not cause like oral cancer. There were no arguments or any supporting citations that the messages regarded by the authors as warnings are actually claiming risks to the subjects. The deception might lead a person to start smoking rather than use an alternative with low risk. Phillips said that there seems no post experiment briefing to tell the subjects that some messages were misleading.

The subjects were offered free samples, but after they indicated their choice, no free samples were given at all.

Flawed Methodology

The methodology of this study was also poorly designed as almost useless, Phillips said. The legitimate goal of warning labels and other risk communication is to move the public closer to making realistic risk assessment. The authors made use on an uncalibrated scale to measure the perception of the subjects. It is not known if the score of 7 is an over estimation or underestimation of the risk.

Considering that the products are low risk, the comparative risk is the main point in assessing communication; regardless what the authors personally believe about harm reduction. It was unethical of the authors to manipulate how the readers will make use of the information from the study by removing some information.

Politically Editorialized

With no analysis or stated premises, the paper is politically editorialized. The researchers did a field study and reported obtained results. No assertions were offered; not even analysis of what makes up reasonable social communication goals on the risk of smokeless tobacco products.

Even previous experience and research showing real world effects of the labels use in an artificial study situation were not analyzed. The authors made conclusions that have nothing to do about the results of their study. Their conclusions are broad assertions of policies that they have not justified or analyzed. The conclusions did not even follow the analysis they have made.

Their very intention of writing the study as a political opinion is even well illustrated in the introduction. They should have provided a background about previous research on risk perception of products that they are studying or about evidences on the actual risks of the products or what is currently known from science on how the labels affect people in real life situations.