The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed rulemaking to reduce the nicotine content in cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products to non-addictive levels. This qualitative study documents reactions to messages communicating this policy among people who use little cigars and cigarillos (LCCs).
We conducted eight focus groups with participants from four populations with the highest prevalence of cigar use (African American males and females, White males and females). Participants described their reactions to eight messages about the policy: three messages about the equal risk of LCCs with regular and low nicotine levels; three quit efficacy messages about low nicotine LCCs being easier to quit; one “compensation” message to correct misperceptions about the policy causing people to smoke more to get desired nicotine; and one message about using alternative nicotine sources (e.g., e-cigarettes).
Participants perceived risk messages as the most motivating to quit, whereas efficacy messages made some participants feel that the policy would cause former users of LCCs to relapse. Many participants expressed favorable responses to the compensation message. The message about using alternative nicotine sources sparked intense responses, with many participants expressing outrage and mistrust of the message. Participants’ beliefs that they were not addicted to LCCs dampened their perceptions of the effectiveness of the policy.
Perceptions of the addictiveness and relative harms of LCCS influenced responses to policy messages. The FDA should consider using different messages to communicate with people who use LCCs because they perceive LCCs as different from cigarettes.
This is the first study to document affect and cognitive responses to the FDA’s reduced nicotine policy among people who use little cigars and cigarillos (LCCs). The false belief that cigar products are less harmful than cigarettes maybe influencing people’s lack of support for the reduced nicotine policy and difficulty in understanding its potential positive impact. To maximize the public health benefit of the reduced nicotine policy, the FDA should include LCC products in the policy; however, it is crucial that they use educational messaging to clarify misperceptions regarding nicotine and harm as it applies to LCCs.