Teen perceptions about e-cigarette health risks vary by socioeconomics and personal demographics

Photo of Than-Huyen T Vu M.D. Ph.D

Boys, blacks and teens living in urban and rural areas among those least likely to think contents of e-cigarette products are harmful, according to new research from the American Heart Association’s Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science

Teenagers’ gender, sexual orientation, household income and their parents’ level of education are among factors that impact whether they believe that nicotine, toxins and other chemicals in e-cigarette and vaping products are harmful to their health, according to new research conducted by the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science of the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives. The study was published today in the journal Health Promotion Practice, a journal of the Society for Public Health Education.

Teens are vaping at alarming rates, with more than one in four high school students regularly using e-cigarettes. The number of middle school students using e-cigarettes increased nearly 50% last year.

“One of the challenges with educational efforts aimed at getting youth to stop using e-cigarettes or preventing them from starting is that many believe e-cigarettes are harmless,” said study lead author Thanh-Huyen T. Vu, M.D., Ph.D., a research faculty member of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. “But many teenagers aren’t aware that e-cigarette products contain nicotine just as traditional cigarettes do, and there are proven, long-term health risks associated with nicotine, as well as with some of the other toxins and chemicals found in these products.”

Researchers conducted national online research queries in 2017 of more than 3,000 teens, age 13 to 18 years, both e-cigarette users and those who never used, asking them to respond yes or no to whether nicotine in e-cigarette products might cause health problems.

Not surprisingly, they found that teens’ perceptions of the health risks of nicotine in e-cigarettes were highest in those who had never used e-cigarettes and lowest in those who used both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. Overall, nearly 63% of the teens said nicotine in e-cigarettes might cause health risks — including 71% of teens who had never used e-cigarettes and nearly half of teens currently using e-cigarettes.

However, teens’ perception of harm varied significantly across personal demographic and socioeconomic factors.

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