Research Brief: College students’ perceptions of e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes

Credit: HAZEMMKAMAL

Young adults’ use of e-cigarettes, JUUL and vapes has grown in the past several years. In a study recently published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, University of Minnesota researchers asked college students about their beliefs regarding e-cigarettes.

The researchers conducted four focus groups with college students who were not daily cigarette smokers. However, they had varied in terms of whether or not they had tried e-cigarettes. They asked the students questions in three groups:

  • their attitudes toward e-cigarettes, including how risky they think they are;
  • what their friends and family think about them;
  • and whether they can control their use of e-cigarettes.

The study found that participants believed that:

  • social use of e-cigarettes was very acceptable, but everyday use was not;
  • social use of e-cigarettes was not risky, while everyday use was seen as more risky;
  • their family likely wouldn’t think that smoking e-cigarettes was a good idea, but wouldn’t be as concerned as if they smoked cigarettes;
  • their friends would accept social use of e-cigarettes, but would look down on everyday use;
  • nicotine is addictive, but they still think they can control whether or not they get addicted (showing they have some misperceptions over the concept of addiction).

“While sharing e-cigarette flavors and showing off smoke tricks has become a part of the college social experience, these students stigmatized everyday use,” said Sherri Jean Katz, lead researcher, an assistant professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication and Masonic Cancer Center member. “This dual perspective mirrors their perceptions of the health risks, wherein they see social use as not risky at all, but see more harm in everyday vaping. Still, e-cigarette use is seen as a choice and a hobby, not a habit, which is different from how they view traditional cigarettes.”

The study suggests young adults would benefit from a health campaign designed to inform them about the risks associated with nicotine use and the nature of addiction.

The study was supported by the National Institute On Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R03DA043022. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
02/28/2019