Background Many smokers in Western countries perceive “light” or “low tar” cigarettes as less harmful and less addictive than “regular” or “full flavoured” cigarettes. However, there is little research on whether similar perceptions exist among smokers in low and middle incomes, including China.
Objective To characterise beliefs about “light” and “low tar” cigarettes among adult urban smokers in China.
Methods We analysed data from Wave 1 of the ITC China Survey, a face-to-face household survey of 4732 adult Chinese smokers randomly selected from six cities in China in 2006. Households were sampled using a stratified multistage design.
Findings Half (50.0%) of smokers in our sample reported having ever tried a cigarette described as “light,” “mild” or “low tar”. The majority of smokers in our sample (71%) believed that “light” and/or “low tar” cigarettes are less harmful compared to “full flavoured” cigarettes. By far the strongest predictor of the belief that “light” and/or “low tar” cigarettes are less harmful was the belief that “light” and/or “low tar” cigarettes feel smoother on the respiratory system (p<0.001, OR=53.87, 95% CI 41.28 to 70.31).
Conclusion Misperceptions about “light” and/or “low tar” cigarettes were strongly related to the belief that these cigarettes are smoother on the respiratory system. Future tobacco control policies should go beyond eliminating labelling and marketing that promotes “light” and “low tar” cigarettes by regulation of product characteristics (for example, additives, filter vents) that reinforce perceptions that “light” and “low tar” cigarettes are smoother on the respiratory system and therefore less harmful.
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Funding Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canada (No 79551), National Cancer Institute (NCI)/National Institute of Health (NIH R01 CA125116-01A1), Roswell Park Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC- P50 CA111236), funded by the US National Cancer Institute, with additional support from a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Canada Graduate Scholarship Master's Award, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Doctoral Research Award, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategic Training Program in Tobacco Research. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention was responsible for data collection. Sponsors did not determine the data analysis, interpretation of data, writing of the report or the decision to submit the paper for publication.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval Ethics approval was obtained from the Office of Research at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo Canada), and the internal review boards at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (Buffalo, USA), the Cancer Council Victoria (Victoria, Australia) and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention (Beijing, China).
Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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