Demographic and social correlates of harm perceptions of e-cigarettes and nicotine among youth in Great Britain

First published: 10/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Aims: To identify demographic and social correlates of (a) relative harm perceptions of e-cigarettes (ECs), and (b) harm perceptions of nicotine, amongst GB youth.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Online GB survey, 2016.

Participants: 2103 youth aged 11-18.

Measurements: Explanatory variables: Gender, age, region, social grade, smoking/EC status, family smoking/EC use, perceived friends’ smoking, perceived public approval of smoking/ECs. Outcomes: (a) relative harm perceptions of ECs vs. cigarettes, (b) harm perceptions of nicotine.

Findings and conclusions: 63.4% of youth believed that ECs are less harmful than cigarettes, and 26.3% believed that none or some of the risk from smoking comes from nicotine. Correlates of believing that ECs are less harmful than cigarettes were: being male (OR=0.82, 95% CI=0.67=0.99, p=.035), older (OR=1.11, CI=1.07-1.16, p<.001), family member(s) using an EC (OR=2.29, CI=1.60-3.26, p<.001), perceiving that the public disapprove of smoking (OR=0.50, CI=0.30-0.82, p=.006) and approve of ECs (OR=2.53, CI=1.85-3.47, p<.001), and not knowing how many friends smoke vs. 0 smoking friends (OR=0.47, CI=0.29-0.78, p=.004). Correlates of believing that none or some of the risk from smoking comes from nicotine were: being male (OR=0.63, CI=0.51-0.78, p<.001), older (OR=1.32, CI=1.26-1.39, p<.001), higher social grade (OR=0.75, CI=0.60-0.94, p=.013), having tried an EC (OR=1.69, CI=1.22-2.35, p=.002) and family member(s) using an EC (OR=1.41, CI=1.01-1.98, p=.045). Smoking status was not associated with either belief (p>.05). The majority of youth have accurate harm perceptions of e-cigarettes but not nicotine. Accurate harm perceptions of e-cigarettes were associated with positive social norms surrounding EC use and negative social norms surrounding smoking.

Co-Authors
Dr. Leonie Brose, Lecturer, Addictions Department, King’s College London Professor Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction, Addictions Department, King’s College London Deborah Arnott, Action on Smoking and Health Dr. Sara Hitchman, Lecturer, Addictions Department, King’s College London
Conflicts of interest:
Funding Sources: The present research by KCL is funded by Cancer Research UK. The ASH annual youth poll is funded by contributions from the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK and project funding from the Department of Health. Deborah Arnott is Chief Executive at Action on Smoking and Health, which receives funding from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health. No other authors have any conflicts of interest.

Miss Katherine East