Effective anti-vaping advertisements geared to teens have the greatest impact when they emphasise the adverse consequences and harms of vaping e-cigarettes, use negative imagery, and avoid memes, hashtags and other ‘teen-centric’ communication styles, according to a first-of-its-kind study by researchers in the journal Tobacco Control.
The researchers also found that certain messaging content currently being used, especially sweets and flavour-related imagery, increases the appeal of vaping and should be avoided when designing prevention messages.
“E-cigarettes and vaping have become a major public health concern, with nicotine addiction and other harmful outcomes looming large for youth,” said Seth M. Noar, PhD, the paper’s corresponding author and UNC Lineberger professor. “The percentage of teens vaping increased from about 5% in 2011 to over 25% in 2019,” Prof Noar said. “That is an alarming trend, making an understanding of effective vaping prevention messages especially urgent.”
Since the introduction of e-cigarettes, numerous US health departments have created their own anti-vaping messaging geared to teens, as have national health organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The online study asked 1501 teens to rate seven randomly selected vaping prevention ads from a pool of more than 200 ads. Vaping prevention ads that clearly communicated the health harms of vaping, or compared vaping to cigarette smoking, were comparatively more effective. Neutral or less personally relevant content, such as referencing the environmental impact of vaping or the targeting of youth by the tobacco industry, was less impactful.
“Although we anticipated that vaping prevention ads with neutral or pleasant imagery would not be as effective, we were alarmed to find that flavour-related messages actually heightened the attractiveness of vaping,” said Marcella H. Boynton, PhD, first author
“In retrospect, it stands to reason that by reminding teens about pleasurable aspects of e-cigarettes, even within the context of a prevention ad, we run the risk of doing harm. Notably, we found that flavour-related prevention ad content was associated with vaping appeal among both users and non-users of e-cigarettes, which is a good reminder of how much candy and fruit flavours in e-cigarettes have driven the youth vaping epidemic.”
The researchers hope to next investigate the effects of other types of anti-vaping ads on a wide range of audiences. They also are developing a series of messages and a companion website to test the ability of a text message-driven intervention to reduce youth vaping. In that regard, Prof Noar noted that “We have been developing our own evidence-based messages based on the latest science about the harms of vaping. Our messaging approach has been greatly influenced by the insights generated by this study.”
The study used UNC’s Vaping Prevention Resource, a website designed to provide practitioners, researchers and communities with vaping prevention media content from around the world, as well as strategies and resources for youth vaping prevention. It is the largest repository of free, open-access vaping prevention materials, all available for download at https://vapingprevention.org/.