Reduced-Risk Tobacco Products Face Perception Issue

Adult consumers understand the continuum of risk but don't separate tobacco from nicotine.
Melissa Kress
Executive Editor
MARC Research Executive Vice President Brad Seipel speaking at TPE 2024

LAS VEGAS — As the tobacco industry embraces a future focused on harm reduction, the bid to move adult consumers to reduced-risk tobacco products — or more pointedly, reduced-risk nicotine products — struggles with an age-old problem: perception over reality.

Speaking at an education session at Total Products Expo (TPE) 2024 on Jan. 30, MARC Research Executive Vice President Brad Seipel pointed out that many of the innovative products coming to market today have been talked about for the past 10 years. "We are now living in a post-tobacco market. It is a nicotine market," he said.

With today's focus of innovation on smokefree and reduced-risk products, Seipel acknowledged there have been "winners and losers as this space has ebbed and flowed" over the past decade. 

For example, snus paved the way for changes in the tobacco/nicotine marketplace, but the products have not gained much traction in the United States. Dissolvable products and lozenges also have not "really found their footing in the U.S. either," he noted. 

[Read more: Multiple Factors Are Driving an Uncertain Future for Tobacco]

As harm reduction drives the competitive landscape, the industry faces an uphill battle with how adult consumers view harm reduction. According to Seipel, adult consumers largely understand the continuum of risk, with combustibles like cigarettes on the very end of the spectrum. However, they do not separate nicotine from tobacco and continue to associate nicotine with smoking, he explained, citing that 79% of adult consumers agree that nicotine equals tobacco. 

Also, 89% of adult consumers believe tobacco is addictive and a nearly equal number (86%) believe nicotine is addictive. "While tobacco is seen as the most harmful perception, nicotine is trailing closely," Seipel said. 

Similarly, the perceived health risks of consuming tobacco are closely associated with nicotine, he added, as both are conceived as harmless regardless of the delivery method. 

Tobacco & Nicotine Demographics

Looking at the overall category, 31% of adult tobacco consumers use only cigarettes. The lion's share of this population practices polyusage and of those who use multiple products, cigarettes are the primary product. 

Breaking it down even further:

  • Exclusive smokers skew older and less educated, with females outnumbering males (54% vs. 46%). 
  • Vapor product users skew the youngest and are in the middle of the pack in terms of income, education and healthfulness. Additionally, 69% started using vapor products within the past five years. 
  • Nicotine pouch consumers skew wealthier and more educated. Also, they use an average of roughly three cans of nicotine pouches per week. 

Despite concerns around vapor products — due in part to anti-vaping campaigns — awareness and use among adult nicotine consumers is widespread with newer products gaining their footing, Seipel said. 

[Read more: FDA Issues Marketing Decisions on Several Vapor Products]

On the other hand, heat-not-burn products have "a way to go in the U.S.," he stated.  

Still, room for innovation does exist, according to Seipel. 

TPE 2024 took place Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Chemular sponsored the education sessions. 

About the Author

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2010. Melissa handles much of CSNews’ hard news coverage, such as mergers and acquisitions and company financial reports, and the technology beat. She is also one of the industry’s leading media experts on the tobacco category.

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