Product use is studied using analytical and hedonic sensory methods (in collaboration with the University of Wageningen), behavioural studies investigating reasons for use and risk perception, mode of use and biomarkers of exposure/effect (in collaboration with the University of Maastricht).

Sensory research into product characteristics and product valuation

The sensory appeal of products is an important aspect of their attractiveness to specific user groups. As such, it is a determinant for the product uptake by an individual or group of people, and eventually population prevalence of use.

As flavours are important for all groups, smokers as well as non-smokers, RIVM assesses the sensory appeal of e-liquids flavours in different user groups. For example, together with WUR, RIVM found that both smokers and non-smokers like sweet and minty flavours better than tobacco. Our findings informed the Dutch Government in their decision to ban all e-liquid flavours other than tobacco. In the past, RIVM and WUR developed a method to assess characterising flavours in tobacco, using an expert smelling panel that rated several attributes of tobacco products. This work was the foundation for the EU procedure to assess characterising flavours in cigarettes and RYO.

RIVM also studied sensory appeal of nicotine salts as compared to free-based nicotine, as nicotine salts have been reported to ease inhalation of e-cigarette emissions. Additives that facilitate inhalation are prohibited by the EU TPD.

Behavioural research on use, reasons for use and risk perception

To understand the (potential) risks of tobacco product use on the population level, prevalence data are necessary. Moreover, knowledge on why consumers use a product and what they like and dislike about it can provide valuable insights for the development for tobacco control policies. RIVM uses surveys to investigate awareness, use and perceptions of tobacco and nicotine products among the population and specific consumer groups. For example, we found that Dutch users of cigarillos, HTP and nicotine pouches mainly use them out of curiosity, for their pleasant taste and flavours and due to the perception of reduced harmful effect on health. RIVM also conducts focus group studies to obtain qualitative data regarding user experiences. Through these studies we found that IQOS users still perceive themselves as smokers and consider using the IQOS as an alternative way of smoking.

Research on mode of use and biomarkers of exposure and effect

Emissions of tobacco and nicotine products contain substances that may cause harm to their users’ health. That is why we need information about user exposure to determine the harmfulness of a product. To estimate user exposure, RIVM studies the mode of use of various products, which includes frequency of use and inhalation intensity. Moreover, to estimate the intake of smoke or vape, human smoking or vaping behaviour (also called puff topography) can be recorded  with a measurement device. The recorded puff parameters can be used as settings on a smoking machine, thereby replicating human smoking or vaping behaviour in a laboratory setting. The smoke/vape generated by the smoking machine is trapped and analysed for (hazardous) components. For example, RIVM and Maastricht University studied puffing topography of smokers and showed a substantial influence of smoking behaviour on the intake of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide (TNCO), dependent on filter ventilation. Additionally to mode of use, biomarker studies clarify how the exposure to smoke/vape chemicals affect the human body. Biomarkers of exposure and effect can be (metabolites of) smoke/vape chemicals analysed in saliva, blood or urine, sampled during human studies with smokers or vapers.