E-cigarettes, Hookah Pens and Vapes: Adolescent and Young Adult Perceptions of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems

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Abstract

Introduction:

Most studies have assessed use of “e-cigarettes” or “electronic cigarettes,” potentially excluding new electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), such as e-hookahs and vape pens. Little is known about how adolescents and young adults perceive ENDS and if their perceptions vary by sub-type. We explored ENDS perceptions among these populations.

Methods:

Ten focus groups with 77 adolescents and young adults, ages 13–25, were conducted in spring 2014. Participants were users or susceptible nonusers of novel tobacco products. Focus group transcripts were coded for emergent themes.

Results:

Participants reported positive ENDS attributes, including flavor variety; user control of nicotine content; and smoke trick facilitation. Negative attributes included different feel compared to combustible cigarettes, nicotine addiction potential, and no cue to stop use. Participants perceived less harm from ENDS compared to combustible cigarettes, perhaps due to marketing and lack of product regulation, but noted the uncertainty of ingredients in ENDS. Numerous terms were used to describe ENDS, including “e-cigarette,” “e-hookah,” “hookah pens,” “tanks,” and “vapes.” Although no clear classification system emerged, participants used product characteristics like nicotine content and chargeability to attempt classification. Perceptions differed by product used. E-hookah users were perceived as young and trendy while e-cigarette users were perceived as old and addicted to nicotine.

Conclusions:

Young adults and adolescents report distinct ENDS sub-types with varying characteristics and social perceptions of users. Although they had more positive than negative perceptions of ENDS, prevention efforts should consider highlighting negative attributes as they may discourage use and product trial among young nonusers.

Implications:

Our study underscores the need for a standardized measurement system for ENDS sub-types and additional research on how ENDS sub-types are perceived among adolescents and young adults. In addition, our findings highlight negative product attributes reported by participants that may be useful in prevention and regulatory efforts to offset favorable marketing messages.

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