• April 24, 2024

Bonus Content: Brent Taylor

 Bonus Content: Brent Taylor

Brent Taylor, managing director of consumer marketplace insights and innovation at Altria Client Services, emphasized that his company wanted to make sure that the adult consumer’s voice is heard and embedded in all of Altria’s decision-making regarding regulation, innovation and science discussions for tobacco harm reduction (THR). The latter, he pointed out, rests on three pillars: youth smoking prevention, cessation support and switching adult smokers to reduced-risk products. The U.S. currently has 42 million adult tobacco users, of whom 28 million smoke combustible cigarettes, 6 million consume smokeless tobacco, 8 million smoke cigars, and 14 million use e-cigarettes.

According to an Altria survey, over 50 percent of adult smokers are interested in switching to a less hazardous alternative. To understand the barriers that keep many of them from changing, Taylor, a former smoker himself who had successfully switched to smoke-free products six years ago, in 2021 set up Project 2021, a deep ethnographic research study that followed 21 consumers for 21 days on their journey away from cigarettes. Participants were asked to catalogue their behavior via video diaries daily, and study investigators had check-ins with them routinely to understand how this journey was going for them. After three months and six months, respectively, there were follow-up interviews to examine the long-term impact that short experience had on consumers.

After six months, 16 of the 21 participants had switched completely to smoke-free alternatives. The balance significantly reduced cigarette consumption—down, for example, from one pack per day to one or two cigarettes. “It’s all about the mindset,” Taylor said. “Consumers will only be able to make this change if they want to make this change.” The survey also showed that external factors can influence smokers on this journey—having had a bad day, for instance, would make them go back to using a cigarette. Becoming smoke-free was liberating and opened new opportunities for participants, allowing them to move into a smoke-free apartment or date nonsmokers, for example.

The study made clear that a support system was required in the journey to becoming a nonsmoker and that the experience was emotional and complicated, with many ups and downs through their daily life, all of which affected their success. “There’s no single way that each of these consumers approach this journey,” Taylor explained. “To accelerate THR, we need to recognize that smokers are not a monolith but represent a vast cross section of adults, different races and incomes, different genders. We need to make sure that we identify which types of clusters exists among that population so that we can design messaging and products that really cater to these different types of people.”

Altria also looked at usage moments of cigarettes. “Smokers use cigarettes either to detach from the world to take a break or to engage with other people,” Tayor said. “If you layer these two areas, there are barriers and motivators for switching across each. We need to think of a portfolio of products to address the needs of consumers throughout the day. The tobacco space is starting to behave like the beverage category, with a proliferation of options for consumers. They might choose a different product first thing in the morning versus throughout their workday versus in the evening.”

To help them transition to reduced-risk alternatives, he added, smokers are very much in favor of THR over prohibitionist methods. They also want options in the marketplace and choose different products, also throughout the day. Misperceptions of nicotine, however, are widely spread, with 80 percent of adult smokers believing that nicotine is a carcinogen. “The key is to always start with the consumer and build empathy with adults who smoke. The highest form of knowledge is empathy. It allows us to step into the shoes of others so we can create real change.”