A California State University, Northridge communication studies professor has collaborated with a team of Cornell researchers to develop and test novel e-cigarette warnings messages with two key and divergent populations: non-smoking youth and adult smokers.
As the FDA declared a vaping epidemic, Motasem Kalaji, a professor in the CSUN Department of Communication Studies co-authored a research paper published in June 2023. The paper explored how key audience members perceive and respond to different e-cigarette warning statements that communicate potential health risks.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as a message for all,” Kalaji said. “Usually with health warning messages, you would need a rotation of messages. Each message is designed for different audiences and works on different audiences.”
For example, Kalaji said the warning language needed to discourage a young person who had never tried an e-cigarette from doing so, is different from the warning language needed to encourage adult cigarette smokers to switch completely to e-cigarettes..
The paper is one of three journal articles reporting on data from research led by Cornell University professors Jeff Niederdeppe, Senior Associate Dean in the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and Sahara Byrne, Senior Associate Dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Kalaji, from the CSUN Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication, worked alongside the researchers and their multidisciplinary team to publish the paper but also participated in conducting the focus group study.
“The study of warnings on e-cigarettes is quite novel, and there’s a lot to do,” Kalaji said. “Currently, the FDA only mandates one warning which reads, ‘WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
The team sampled 37 adults (ages 18-67) and 32 teens (ages 14-16) in a variety of groups based on age, smoking history and vaping habits. Eight statements from a larger assortment of 21 developed warnings were shown to each group at random, with at least one statement from each of the five category types: toxic ingredients, health effects, cognitive development, addiction, and unknown risks.
Subjects’ reactions to the warnings were assigned one of four codes: danger control (response to stimuli that changes attitudes and behavior in order to avoid danger); fear control (response to stimuli that generates attitudes and behavior in order to control the danger); response efficacy (a participant response that affirms the validity of the messaging); response inefficacy (a participant response that indicates messaging was misinterpreted or misconstrued).
After the team recorded group responses to each message, they used the four codes to analyze each statement’s efficacy based on the group’s reactions. Kalaji said that researchers discovered each group perceived messages differently, meaning that the language needed to make warnings effective for each group would also need to be changed.
“We just want people to think,” Kalaji said. “It’s what we call cognitive elaboration on harms. We want people to elaborate and think a lot more about the harms because ultimately down the line it can contribute to eventual quitting.”
The research was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute and is titled: “The E-Cigarette Population Paradox: Testing Effects of Youth-Targeted Population Warnings for E-Cigarettes Among Two Key Populations.”
To read the team’s paper, “Perceived Threat and Fear Responses to e-Cigarette Warning Label Messages,” visit, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0286806.