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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Explores How Smokers Learn about E-Cigarettes, Finds Physicians Most Trusted Source

E-cigarette usage is on the rise with nearly half of daily cigarette smokers having ever tried e-cigarettes. Understanding how smokers learn about e-cigarettes, as well as where they get their information from about its risk and safety is important given that this information may impact smokers’ e-cigarette perceptions and use.

Wackowski headshot
[Photo: Dr. Olivia A. Wackowski]

In a study published in Preventive Medicine Reports, Dr. Olivia A. Wackowski, assistant professor, and Dr. Cristine D. Delnevo, professor and chair, both in the department of health education and behavioral science at the Rutgers School of Public Health, surveyed 519 adult current cigarette smokers to learn about their e-cigarette information sources. Smokers most frequently reported seeing e-cigarettes in stores (86.4 percent) and used in person (83 percent). Many (73 percent) had also heard about e-cigarettes from known users, broadcast media ads (68 percent), other (print/online) advertisements (71.5 percent), and/or from the news (60.9 percent).

Although most smokers (59.9 percent) believed e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, a belief attributed to “common sense” (76.4 percent), the news (39.2 percent), and advertisements (37.2 percent), the majority (79.5 percent) felt that having e-cigarette safety information would be important if they were to consider trying or using e-cigarettes again in the future. “People may generally think e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes, but may not necessarily think they are risk-free,” said Dr. Wackowski. “Many want to know more about their safety and potential risks.”

Over one-third of surveyed smokers said they would turn to a doctor first for e-cigarette safety information, although almost a quarter said they would turn to the Internet or product packaging first. Most (59.6 percent) ranked doctors as the most trustworthy risk source, and 6.8 percent had asked a health professional about e-cigarettes. Dr. Wackowski noted that while there may be little that can be done practically about e-cigarette information found online, the study’s findings “underscore the need for e-cigarette regulation that would require standards in product labeling and packaging, an action that fits under the FDA’s regulatory purview.” In addition, Dr. Wackowski added, given that physicians were by far perceived as the most trustworthy source and that physicians have historically been influential in motivating smokers’ to quit, “it is important for health professionals to be informed about e-cigarettes and feel comfortable in talking to their patients about e-cigarettes.” Physicians should increasingly expect their patients to ask about e-cigarettes.

“Smokers’ sources of e-cigarette awareness and risk information” was published online in November in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

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