Trust in e-cigarette safety varies by worldview, source of messaging

December 12, 2017

ATLANTA--Public health messaging about the safety of e-cigarettes needs to account for the worldviews of the target audience, with different groups displaying varying levels of trust depending on the source of the message, according to a recent study by the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

Researchers at the school's Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) assessed cultural worldviews along two dimensions: hierarchy-egalitarianism (attitudes toward authority and power) and individualism-communitarianism (focus on self-reliance or responsibility to a larger group) of more than 5,000 people who reported an awareness of electronic nicotine devices (ENDS), which include e-cigarettes.

While people tended to trust health sources, but not tobacco or vapor company sources, the researchers found those with individualistic and hierarchical worldviews "were less trusting of health experts, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and were more trusting of tobacco and vapor manufacturers."

As the authors noted, the same message about the potential risks or benefits of e-cigarettes may have "different, opposing or unintended effects on individuals' risk-benefit perceptions depending on their worldviews."

The authors found that worldviews and whom people trust for information about e-cigarettes were associated with their perceptions of risk of and whether they used e-cigarettes.

Results of the study, which used data from the 2015 Tobacco Products and Risk Perceptions Survey, are published in an article titled "Worldviews and trust of sources for health information on electronic nicotine delivery systems: Effects on risk perceptions and Use," published in the journal Social Science & Medicine: Population Health.

The authors recommend additional research to determine which types of communication strategies are most effective in conveying risk to different groups of people. They also suggest that researchers explore "how people perceive the credibility of the source" for "modified risk" messages that say an e-cigarette product has fewer toxins or is less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which tobacco and vapor companies can place on product packaging with FDA approval.

The study's authors are Dr. Scott Weaver, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics; Amelia Jazwa, research coordinator; Dr. Lucy Popova, assistant professor of health promotion & behavior; Dr. Richard Rothenberg, Regents' Professor of epidemiology & biostatistics, and Dean Michael Eriksen, all of the School of Public Health at Georgia State; and Dr. Paul Slovic of Decision Research and the University of Oregon.

TCORS, established at Georgia State in 2013, takes a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding human and economic factors that contribute to tobacco use. The Center, housed within the School of Public Health, conducts research designed to inform the regulation of tobacco products to protect public health.

Research reported in this publication was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse and Food and Drug Administration, Center for Tobacco Products and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute and Food and Drug Administration, Center for Tobacco Products. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the Food and Drug Administration.

Georgia State University

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