Brand switching and toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke: A national study

Jennifer R. Mendel, Sabeeh A. Baig, Marissa G. Hall, Michelle Jeong, M. Justin Byron, Jennifer C. Morgan, Seth M. Noar, Kurt M. Ribisl, Noel T. Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Introduction US law requires disclosure of quantities of toxic chemicals (constituents) in cigarette smoke by brand and sub-brand. This information may drive smokers to switch to cigarettes with lower chemical quantities, under the misperception that doing so can reduce health risk. We sought to understand past brand-switching behavior and whether learning about specific chemicals in cigarette smoke increases susceptibility to brand switching. Methods Participants were US adult smokers surveyed by phone (n = 1,151, probability sample) and online (n = 1,561, convenience sample). Surveys assessed whether smokers had ever switched cigarette brands or styles to reduce health risk and about likelihood of switching if the smoker learned their brand had more of a specific chemical than other cigarettes. Chemicals presented were nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, formaldehyde, arsenic, and ammonia. Results Past brand switching to reduce health risk was common among smokers (43% in phone survey, 28% in online survey). Smokers who were female, over 25, and current “light” cigarette users were more likely to have switched brands to reduce health risks (all p < .05). Overall, 61–92% of smokers were susceptible to brand switching based on information about particular chemicals. In both samples, lead, formaldehyde, arsenic, and ammonia led to more susceptibility to switch than nicotine (all p < .05). Conclusions Many US smokers have switched brands or styles to reduce health risks. The majority said they might or would definitely switch brands if they learned their cigarettes had more of a toxic chemical than other brands. Brand switching is a probable unintended consequence of communications that show differences in smoke chemicals between brands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0189928
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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