The E-Cigarette Population Paradox—Testing Warning Messages

Use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, has reached epidemic levels among adolescents. Putting health warning messages on ads has proven effective at reducing combustible tobacco products’ appeal among adolescents. Formulating warning messages for e-cigarettes, however, involves a particular challenge. While e-cigarettes pose significant harms to non-smoking adolescents, adult smokers may experience health benefits by switching completely from combustible tobacco products to e-cigarettes. Can warning messages discourage adolescents from vaping even as they protect the perceived benefits for adult smokers?

Sahara Byrne and Jeff Niederdeppe, Communication, are leading a four-college interdisciplinary Cornell team—including Rosemary J. Avery and Alan Mathios, Policy Analysis and Management, Michael C. Dorf, Law, and Amelia Greiner Safi, Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences/Communication—to develop effective youth-targeted warning messages to tackle these challenges.

The team is using a state-of-the-art mobile lab, outfitted with computing and eye-tracking technology, to test potential warning messages for e-cigarette ads. A first round of experiments will assess warning messages’ ability to maximize adolescents’ visual attention to the warning, increase risk beliefs, decrease attention to ad content, and reduce intentions to use e-cigarettes. Researchers will then test whether the most effective warning messages for adolescents have unintended consequences for adult smokers. They will gauge the warning messages’ influence on adults’ visual attention, perceptions of comparative risks between combustible and e-cigarettes, and their intentions to continue smoking combustible cigarettes. Will they switch completely to e-cigarettes or use both?

The study will inform the Food and Drug Administration on issues pertaining to e-cigarette warning regulations.

NIH Award Number: 1R01CA246605-01

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.3 Million spanning 3 years