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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Explores Young Adults’ Risk Perceptions of Various Tobacco Products

Young adults under 25 years of age are using non-cigarette tobacco products more than any other adult age group. Understanding how young adults view various non-cigarette products in relation to cigarettes is important in the context of declining cigarettes sales and increasing sales for other products such as cigars, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes.

In a study published in Health Education & Behavior this week, Dr. Olivia A. Wackowski, assistant professor, and Dr. Cristine D. Delnevo, professor and chair, both in the department of health education and behavioral sciences at the Rutgers School of Public Health, explored risk perceptions among young adults regarding various tobacco products relative to traditional cigarettes.

Using the 2011 National Young Adult Health Survey (NYAHS) conducted by Rutgers School of Public Health, Wackowski and Delnevo examined data from 2,871 smoking and nonsmoking young adults, ages 18-34.  Overall, 31.2 percent currently used some form of tobacco: 23.8 percent reported being current smokers, 8.7 percent currently used cigars, 5.7 percent currently used hookah, and 3.6 percent currently used some form of smokeless tobacco product. In addition, 10.1 percent reported ever using an e-cigarette.

Researchers found that nearly 60 percent of the young adults surveyed believed that e-cigarettes were less risky than cigarettes while few (2.5 percent) rated menthol cigarettes as less risky than regular cigarettes. Researchers noted that these risk perceptions were generally in line with research data and perspectives in the tobacco control community suggesting tobacco products possess a continuum of risk, with combustible tobacco cigarettes representing the most harmful type of product to individual health, and noncombustible and non-tobacco products representing less harmful products on the spectrum with respect to individual health. However, respondents were also more likely to rate combustible tobacco products, hookah (24.5 percent) and cigars (13.9 percent), as being less risky than cigarettes than they were to do so for noncombustible snus (10 percent) and other smokeless tobacco products (7.1 percent), findings that were inconsistent with these continuum of risk perspectives.

“We also found that while beliefs that e-cigarettes are less risky products were more prevalent among current cigarette smokers, beliefs that hookah use is less risky were equally prevalent among smokers and non-smokers,” said Dr. Wackowski.  “This is concerning as it suggests that even a substantial proportion of nonsmokers may view hookah as being a relatively safer and acceptable way to use tobacco.”

Differences in risk perceptions by age were also found. Younger young adults (ages 18-24 years) were more likely to rate e-cigarettes and hookah as being less risky and rate cigars and smokeless tobacco as being more risky than older young adults (ages 25-34 years).  Perceptions that products are more risky than cigarettes may not necessarily dissuade people from their use. Between 22 percent and 33 percent of all respondents believed that smokeless tobacco, snus, menthol cigarettes, and cigars were more risky than cigarettes.

“Young Adults’ Risk Perceptions of Various Tobacco Products Relative to Cigarettes: Results From the National Young Adult Health Survey” was published online in August in the journal Health Education & Behavior.

Journal article: