Study: How Young Adults Use E-Cigarettes, Snus

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UIC Podcast
Study: How Young Adults Use E-Cigarettes, Snus

News Release


[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C — the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today, Robin Mermelstein, director of the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy, talks about a grant to study how young adults use new alternative tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes.

Here’s professor Mermelstein:

[Mermelstein] I’m Robin Mermelstein. I’m a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the department of psychology and the director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

The United States is in a period now of a very rapidly changing landscape of tobacco products. The good news is that cigarette consumption has been going down over the last few years. The more challenging news, however, is that alternative tobacco products are now rising and tobacco companies are rapidly moving into what are called next generation tobacco products.

Some of these products are electronic cigarettes, what people know as e-cigs, which are smokeless devices that produce a vaporized or aerosolized nicotine which is a delivery product in some ways.

Others are smokeless forms of pouches known as snus.

What’s intriguing and potentially challenging about all these introduction of new products is that they are perceived by many people as being safer products and alternatives to traditional combustible tobacco; that what we know as cigarettes or cigars.
However we don’t really know if ultimately they will be good for the population health, good if indeed they have reduced harm, and if indeed people give up their traditional combustible cigarettes and switch to these products.

Or if potentially they actually increase harm. And they may increase harm if, for example, smokers delay quitting by using these products as bridge products.

So for example, they might use e-cigarettes at times when they are in an environment where they can’t smoke. With all of our restrictions on indoor air and smoking inside smokers who are quite dependent on tobacco may find that e-cigarettes or snus are convenient ways to bridge those periods when they can’t smoke; and therefore they may think that they’re okay or may switch and use both regular cigarettes and these newer products and therefore continue to use combustible traditional cigarettes longer than they might have otherwise. So rather than facilitating quitting many of these new products may ultimately get used by smokers as a way of prolonging their addiction.

The goal of our new study is to really understand how do people, and particularly young adults, use these new forms of tobacco products. We’re most interested in the electronic cigarettes and snus and other newer products that are dissolvable tobaccos like strips and even little pellets of tobacco.

Young adults are a big market for tobacco companies; they’re often willing to try new products and often experiment in a variety of settings.

We’re particularly interested in young adults to see how they might use new products, either as replacement products or in conjunction with their current cigarettes or how they might use them with other substances as well.

So young adults are a vulnerable population and our study is going to look at what some of their motivations are for using these products, how they use them, where they use them, does it increase their overall tobacco dependence, or perhaps does it help them reduce?

We’re also interested in understanding how do we convey messages to young adults that are effective and persuasive in helping them to understand what are the facts and the realities about these new products.

For example, many young adults and older adults actually think that these products are not tobacco, are not harmful and that there’s nothing wrong with them. They also believe that the government has somehow endorsed the safety of these products.

And part of what we’re trying to understand is how might we be able to convey factual, truthful messages to get them to know that indeed these are not endorsed yet by the government. We don’t know if they will ever be endorsed as having a label as less harmful than traditional cigarettes. To understand how do they evaluate potential harms.

Now many people are used to seeing traditional cigarette warning labels on packages which are text based and word based. We’re interested in seeing are there effective and persuasive visual messages that we might be able to convey to people through smartphone applications that they could quickly and easily look up and find and understand with a quick visual what it is about these products that might make them harmful or helpful.

[Writer] Robin Mermelstein is a professor in psychology.

For more information about this research, go to www-dot-news-dot-uic-dot-edu ( click on “news releases” and look for the release dated February 7, 2013.

This has been research news from U-I-C — the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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