The latest medical research on Addiction Medicine

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Online popularity of JUUL and Puff Bars in the USA: 2019-2020.

Tobacco Control

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a flavour ban on cartridge-based e-cigarettes in January 2020. It is unclear whether e-cigarette users will switch to disposable vaping products with a variety of kids-appealing flavours available.

We performed piece-wise regression and autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) algorithms to compare the relative search volume (RSV) of JUUL and Puff Bar (a disposable vaping product) using the 1-year Google Trends data from 24 February 2019 to 20 February 2020, separated by three events that may have spurred changes in RSV for each product.

The RSV for JUUL was relatively stable before Trump Administration announced plans to ban flavoured e-cigarettes. After that, the RSV for JUUL dropped sharply (rate of change=-8.8 per week) from 11 September 2019 to 17 October 2019 when JUUL Labs announced to halt online sales of some flavoured products, and the RSV resumed the decreasing trend after FDA announced enforcement policy of cartridge-based e-cigarettes on 2 January 2020. In comparison, the RSV for Puff Bar started to increase after 11 September 2019 with a low rate of change (0.6) until 17 October 2019. After that, the increase in RSV for Puff Bar accelerated. The RSV of puff bars surpassed that of JUUL during the week of 2 February 2020.

The popularity of Puff Bar on Google Search suggests that users may replace cartridge-based vaping products with disposable e-cigarettes in the circumvention of the partial flavour ban. Continuous surveillance and further assessment are needed to prevent potential loopholes in tobacco regulation.

News coverage of the E-cigarette, or Vaping, product use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) outbreak and internet searches for vaping cessation.

Tobacco Control

In the latter half of 2019, an outbreak of pulmonary disease in the USA resulted in 2807 hospitalisations and 68 deaths, as of 18 February 2020. Given the severity of the outbreak, we assessed whether articles during the outbreak era more frequently warned about the dangers of vaping and whether internet searches for vaping cessation increased.

Using Tobacco Watcher, a media monitoring platform that automatically identifies and categorises news articles from sources across the globe, we obtained all articles that (a) discussed the outbreak and (b) primarily warned about the dangers of vaping. We obtained internet search trends originating from the USA that mentioned 'quit' or 'stop' and 'e cig(s),' 'ecig(s),' 'e-cig(s),' 'e cigarette(s),' 'e-cigarette(s),' 'electronic cigarette(s),' 'vape(s),' 'vaping' or 'vaper(s)' from Google Trends (eg, 'how do I quit vaping?'). All data were obtained from 1 January 2014 to 18 February 2020 and ARIMA models were used with historical trends to forecast the ratio of observed to expected search volumes during the outbreak era.

News of the vaping-induced pulmonary disease outbreak was first reported on 25 July 2019 with 195 articles, culminating in 44 512 articles by 18 February 2020. On average, news articles warning about the dangers of vaping were 130% (95% prediction interval (PI): -15 to 417) and searches for vaping cessation were 76% (95% PI: 28 to 182) higher than expected levels for the days during the period when the sources of the outbreak were unknown (25 July to 27 September 2019). News and searches stabilised just after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a primary source of the outbreak was an additive used in marijuana vapes on 27 September 2019. In sum, there were 12 286 articles archived in Tobacco Watcher primarily warning about the dangers of vaping and 1 025 000 cessation searches following the outbreak.

The vaping-induced pulmonary disease outbreak spawned increased coverage about the dangers of vaping and internet searches for vaping cessation. Resources and strategies that respond to this elevated interest should become a priority among public health leaders.

Tobacco industry targeting of health-conscious youth with 'lighter' cigarettes: the case of Singapore.

Tobacco Control

Despite Singapore's strict tobacco control policies, smoking rates have not decreased since 2004. We examined the primary targets, motivations and strategies behind targeted marketing activities in Singapore from the tobacco industry's perspective to understand how tobacco companies continue to target people in their marketing.

Snowball search in the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library for documents covering the industry's targeted marketing activities in Singapore. Information from the documents was subsequently triangulated with market data obtained from the Euromonitor Passport database, analysed for trends by tar segment and data from cigarette packs purchased from Singapore retailers, analysed in terms of product positioning.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as young people in Singapore became more health-conscious, tobacco companies positioned 'light' cigarettes for growth in the 1990s. Many of these 'lights' contained similar tar and nicotine levels as regular brands; they were only light in their branding. In the 1990's, 'lights' became more popular in Singapore and this demand was largely youth driven. Into the 2010s, while the low tar (<6 mg) segment comprised only a small portion of Singapore's cigarette market, most cigarette variants were marketed as 'lighter' or as having harm reductive benefits to appeal to more health-conscious people.

The differentiation of 'lighter' cigarettes remains an important marketing tool for tobacco companies amidst Singapore's strict regulations. Legislation to remove all remaining avenues for tobacco companies to make harm reduction claims on their products, explicit or implicit, coupled with improving health literacy and exposing industry deception, could help to further bring down smoking prevalence in Singapore.

Identifying best practices in adoption, implementation and enforcement of flavoured tobacco product restrictions and bans: lessons from experts.

Tobacco Control

To identify recommended components for adopting, implementing and enforcing bans or restrictions targeting flavoured tobacco products.

Between April and June 2019, semistructured interviews were conducted with 17 high-level experts across the USA and Canada with expertise in flavoured tobacco product policies. Participants included health department staff, researchers, legal professionals and local government officials. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed for key themes.

Major findings were organised into four categories: programme planning and legislative preparations; education and community outreach; implementation and enforcement; and policy impact. Critical pre-implementation elements included using comprehensive policy language, identifying enforcement agents, examining potential economic costs, deploying media campaigns and engaging community partners and retailers. Recommended implementation processes included a 6-month preparation timeline, focus on retailer education and clearly outlined enforcement procedures, particularly for concept flavours.

Flavoured tobacco policies have successfully limited sales, withstood legal challenges and become more comprehensive over time, providing useful lessons to inform ongoing and future legislative and programmatic efforts. Identifying and sharing best practices can improve passage, implementation, efficacy and evaluation of flavoured tobacco policies.

Inferences beyond a claim: a typology of potential halo effects related to modified risk tobacco product claims.

Tobacco Control

When tobacco products are marketed with modified risk tobacco product (MRTP) claims, consumers may infer additional health benefits not directly st...

Influencer prevalence and role on cigar brand Instagram pages.

Tobacco Control

Influencers market products for tobacco companies on social media. This is the first study to systematically examine leading cigar brands' use of influencers on their brand Instagram pages.

We identified 24 leading cigar brands, using July 2017-June 2018 US retail data. We identified cigar brands that had official appearing Instagram pages, with at least one influencer in the past 20 posts. We coded characteristics of the past three posts from each of five brand pages that contained influencers, such as setting and what the influencer was doing. Finally, we described influencer characteristics.

Approximately one-third of the 24 brands had official Instagram accounts with at least one influencer in the past 20 posts. We identified 28 influencers, typically people of colour from the hip-hop music industry, some with millions of followers. Influencers included Bella Thorne (@bellathorne), Shaquille O'Neal (@shaq) and T.I. (@troubleman31). Brands' posts that contained influencers showed the influencer using/holding a product, wearing branded merchandise or appearing in photos with a brand watermark. Three brands' pages posted sponsored event photos (ie, concerts and events using branded backgrounds).

Cigar brands commonly use influencers to market their products on brand Instagram pages. Results are consistent with previous findings that cigar companies' marketing may target younger African Americans and highlight the potential utility of education campaigns that similarly engage influencers.

Analysis of submissions to the EU's public consultation on tobacco traceability and security features.

Tobacco Control

The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products requires all parties to establish a tobacco track and trace (T&T) system. In 2016, the European Commission held a public consultation on T&T implementation where parties were asked to respond online to 22 multiple-choice questions and were given additional opportunities to leave comments. In May 2019, the European Union's (EU) T&T system became operational. This paper explores tobacco industry influence over and policy positions within the consultation process.

We identified consultation respondents and investigated any financial links with the tobacco industry and if these were transparent. Respondent's answers to the consultation's multiple-choice questions were collated to explore whether industry-linked respondents held the same policy positions as transnational tobacco companies (TTCs). Associations between policy positions and respondent's financial link status were tested using χ2 and Cranmer's V tests.

Of the 197 consultation respondents identified, 131 (66.4%) had financial links to the industry; 29 (22.1%) were not transparent about these links. A large number of trade associations responded (87), the majority of which (74/87) had financial links to the industry. There was a clear divide in the policy preferences of respondents with and without a financial link. Collectively, respondents with a financial link supported an industry-operated T&T solution.

There was an extensive lobbying effort by the tobacco industry over the EU's T&T system, with TTCs' interests being represented repeatedly through multiple trade associations. The transparency requirements regarding consultation respondents' affiliations with relevant stakeholders (eg, tobacco manufacturers) should be improved for future consultations.

Shedding 'light' on cigarette pack design: colour differences in product perceptions, use and exposure following the US descriptor ban.

Tobacco Control

Many countries removed misleading descriptors (eg, 'light,' 'mild') from cigarette packaging because they falsely conveyed messages of reduced risk. It is unclear if relabelled products currently promote misperceptions or differences in product use and toxicant exposure. We compared product perceptions, use and exposure between a US sample of Marlboro Gold (formerly 'light') and Red smokers.

240 non-treatment-seeking adult daily Marlboro smokers (70% male, 71% White, mean cigarettes/day=16.4 (SD=8.3)) completed two laboratory sessions over a 5-day period. During sessions, participants smoked two cigarettes through a topography device to capture their puffing behaviour, provided precigarette and postcigarette carbon monoxide (CO) assessments, and completed risk perception and subjective rating questionnaires. Self-reported cigarettes per day were verified via daily filter collection; urine collected at the end of the period was assayed for nicotine metabolites.

Gold (n=49) smokers were more likely than Red (n=191) to incorrectly believe their cigarettes had less nicotine and tar than regular cigarettes (ps<0.001), and rated them as weaker, less harsh, and mild tasting (ps<0.05). Differences between Red and Gold smokers in cigarettes per day and puffing behaviours trended towards significance (ps<0.1). Notably, there were no group differences on CO boost or total nicotine equivalents (ps>0.1).

Misperceptions about nicotine and tar exist years after rebranding Marlboro Lights as Marlboro Gold. Biological results support that Gold smokers do not have lower toxicant exposure. The US should consider comprehensive packaging or product design regulations to properly inform smokers of product risks.Trial registeration numberNCT02301351.

Impact of population tobacco control interventions on socioeconomic inequalities in smoking: a systematic review and appraisal of future research directions.

Tobacco Control

While price increases and targeted cessation support have been found to reduce inequalities in smoking by socioeconomic status (SES), evidence on other measures is mixed. We aimed to update the most recent (2014) previous review by identifying and appraising evidence published since 2013 on the equity impact of population tobacco control measures.

Systematic searching of 10 electronic databases and hand-searching of four key journals identified 68 primary research articles published since 2013 that sought to examine the equity impact of population tobacco control measures in high-income countries with a negative socioeconomic gradient in smoking. Reported equity impacts were categorised as positive (greater impact among lower SES), neutral (no difference by SES), negative (greater impact among higher SES) or mixed/unclear.

There was substantial growth in research seeking to evaluate the equity impact of tobacco control interventions, but the majority of new studies showed mixed/unclear results. Findings for price increases and targeted cessation support continue to suggest an equity-positive impact, but limitations in the available evidence make further assessment difficult. Substantial differences in the context, scale and implementation of tobacco control policies make straightforward comparison of findings from the previous 2014 and current reviews problematic.

Researchers need to adopt more sophisticated, multidisciplinary approaches in evaluating the equity impact of tobacco control measures-developing robust measures of equity effect and using frameworks that take account of context, existing systems/processes and the likely mechanisms of action. Socioeconomic differences in intervention impact within low-income and middle-income countries require evaluation.

Awareness, trial and use of heated tobacco products among adult cigarette smokers and e-cigarette users: findings from the 2018 ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Survey.

Tobacco Control

To evaluate heated tobacco product (HTP) awareness, trial and current use among adult cigarette smokers and vaping product users in four countries with varying regulations governing HTP sales.

Data came from Wave 2 of the ITC Four Country Smoking and Vaping Survey, collected from February to July 2018. Respondents were current and former smokers and/or users of vaping products (18 years or older) from Canada (CA; n=3778), England (EN; n=4848), the USA (US; n=2846) and Australia (AU; n=1515). At the time of the survey, only Canada and England permitted the sale of contemporary HTPs (eg, IQOS).

Overall, 30.2% of respondents reported being aware of HTPs (CA=30.4%; EN=31.0%; US=30.2%; AU=27.4%; p=0.346), 2.4% had ever tried HTPs (CA=3.3%; EN=2.4%; US=2.0%; AU=0.9%; p=0.001) and 0.9% currently used HTPs at least monthly (CA=0.8%; EN=1.2%; US=0.7%; AU=0.2%; p<0.001). Trial and current use were higher among those who concurrently smoked and vaped (at least monthly) versus other nicotine use categories (trial: 10.9% v. 1.2%-2.0%, p<0.001; current use: 8.4% v. 0.1%-1.0%, p<0.001). In multivariable analyses, HTP awareness did not differ across countries, whereas odds of trial and current use were lower where HTPs were unavailable. Odds of HTP trial did not differ by regulatory environment when restricting analysis to HTP-aware concurrent smokers-vapers.

Approximately one third of respondents were aware of HTPs, even in the USA and Australia, where contemporary HTPs were not yet on the market. Trial and use were uncommon, except among concurrent smokers-vapers. Restrictions on availability may have limited HTP use generally, but less so for concurrent smokers-vapers.

Measuring the effects of the new ECOWAS and WAEMU tobacco excise tax directives.

Tobacco Control

In December 2017, the 15-member ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and the 8-member WAEMU (West African Economic and Monetary Union, a subset of ECOWAS) passed new Tobacco Tax Directives. Both Directives increased the minimum ad valorem excise tax rate to 50%. In addition the ECOWAS Directive introduced a minimum specific tax (US$ 0.02/stick), but the WAEMU Directive did not. This paper examines the likely effects of these new Directives on cigarette prices, sales volumes and revenues.

Tax simulation models using comparable data were constructed for each of the 15 countries to estimate the effects of the ECOWAS and WAEMU Directives.

If the 15 ECOWAS members implement the ECOWAS Directive it would substantially increase the retail price of cigarettes (unweighted average 51%, range: 12% to 108%), decrease sales volumes (22%, range: -8% to -39%) and increase tax revenue (373%, range: 10% to 1243%). The impact of the WAEMU Directive on WAEMU countries' cigarette prices (unweighted average +2%), sales volumes (-1%) and revenue (+17%) is likely to be minimal.

The 2017 ECOWAS Directive, which adds a specific excise tax per pack, along with an increase in the ad valorem tax, substantially improves its members' cigarette tax structure. The specific tax overcomes the weakness of the ad valorem excise tax, since it does not depend on import or ex-factory values, which comprise only a small part of the retail price in ECOWAS countries. We recommend that WAEMU countries adopt the ECOWAS Directive, rather than the WAEMU Directive.

Impact of three annual tobacco tax rises on tobacco sales in remote Australian Aboriginal community stores.

Tobacco Control

There is strong evidence from many settings that tobacco tax rises which increase prices reduce tobacco consumption, but only limited evidence from Indigenous settings.

We analysed 3 years (2016-2018) of weekly sales data from 32 stores in remote Aboriginal communities. We used interrupted time series analysis to estimate the immediate impact of the price rice following annual 12.5% tobacco tax rises on sales on (A) stick equivalents of tobacco and (B) fruit and vegetables (kg) per $A1000 of grocery sales, and on the trend in sales between price rises.

We detected 5.8% and 8.2% immediate declines in tobacco sales following the price rises associated with annual 12.5% tax rises in 2016 and 2018, and a non-significant decline (1.6%) following the 2017 tax rise. Decreased sales were mainly driven by declines in mainstream and premium factory-made cigarettes. Fruit and vegetable sales did not change at the time of tobacco price rises.

For the first time, we demonstrated evidence of price-sensitivity and the immediate impact of price rises from tobacco tax rises on tobacco sales in remote Aboriginal communities. We acknowledge that Australia already has very high tobacco taxation and prices, but recommend further increases to the taxation of roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco to prevent smokers and industry using cheaper RYO cigarettes to undermine this impact of high tobacco taxes and prices.