Novel Nicotine Concentration Labels Improve Adolescents' and Young Adults' Understanding of the Nicotine Strength of Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Products


Introduction E-cigarette liquid nicotine concentrations typically are labeled as mg/mL or percent, which poorly convey nicotine strength to users. We evaluated whether four novel nicotine concentration labels better convey information about nicotine strength and addictiveness. Methods Adolescents and young adults (N = 826) completed an online survey in 2020. Participants rated nicotine concentrations (3, 6, 18, 30, 40, and 50 mg/mL) from "no nicotine" to "very high nicotine" communicated using current market labels (mg/mL, percent) and four new labels (text-based, caution sign-shaped, horizonal stoplight, vertical thermometer) which used color, symbols, and verbal strength descriptors. Participants reported on perceived addictiveness for all labels viewed and rank-ordered labels on perceived ability to convey information accurately. Results Participants ranked the vertical (77%) and horizontal (70%) labels in first or second place and mg/mL (59.1%) and percent (47.2%) in last or second-to-last place. All new labels conveyed nicotine strength more accurately than did market labels (M[SD] correct of 6: percent = 1.50[1.08]; mg/mL = 2.14[1.52]; caution = 5.23[1.37]; vertical thermometer = 5.28[1.51]; text = 5.33[1.36]; horizontal stoplight = 5.47[1.14]), with the horizontal label also outperforming the thermometer and caution labels. Underestimating nicotine strength was uncommon among all new labels (4.7-6.8%). The new labels also were associated with increased perceived addictiveness at higher concentrations (30, 40, and 50 mg/mL), although the thermometer label underperformed the others. When considering perceived nicotine strength, rates of strength underestimates, perceived addictiveness, and rank ordering, the horizontal stoplight label performed best. Conclusions Novel labeling could improve understanding of nicotine strength and e-cigarette-related risk. Implications Extending prior research showing that adolescents and young adults who use Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) have difficulty understanding nicotine concentrations labeled using mg/mL and percent nicotine, the current study demonstrates that novel nicotine concentration labels can improve understanding of nicotine strength and influence perceptions of addictiveness among young ENDS users. While four novel labels were tested, each outperforming current market labeling, the novel label that resembles a horizontal stoplight performed best. The study provides proof-of-concept that creating an easy-to-understand nicotine concentration label is possible and that new labeling better conveys information about nicotine strength and addictiveness.


Oxford University Press

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Nicotine & Tobacco Research



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User puff topography, Warning labels, United States, Cigarette use, Information, Consumers, Smoking, Device, Model