Consumer and Health Literacy

It can be difficult for smokers trying to quit to know which products are safe, effective and suit them best. Understating health information is particularly challenging for less-educated, low-income adults who are at a disadvantage when making informed consumer choices about their health.

Researchers examined 117 products sold to consumers to reduce or quit use of tobacco, using the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids’ database. The cessation products examined included both FDA and non-FDA-approved products. They measured the grade level of the text and used an immersion/crystallization methodology to analyze the claims of text. Among their findings: FDA-approved products on average required 12.7 grade-level reading skills; the non-FDA products were rated at a 10.9 grade level.

The authors made four recommendations on how to apply consumer demand design principles to better promote cessation among smokers:

  1. Design products and packaging with plain language and instructions that can be easily understood by all consumers.
  2. Design cessation products and accompanying materials that educate smokers about tobacco dependence–treatment safety and efficacy.
  3. Design products for and by smokers so that they fit into the tobacco user’s everyday life.
  4. Work to increase the reach of evidence-based tobacco-cessation products by improving opportunities for comprehension, including reading level and language preferences.

This article is part of a special issue on tobacco cessation in the March 2010 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.