Querying About the Use of Specific E-Cigarette Devices May Enhance Accurate Measurement of E-Cigarette Prevalence Rates Among High School Students


Introduction: Prevalence estimates of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use may underestimate actual use in youth. Confusion resulting from the fact that a multitude of devices (eg, vape pens, JUULs) fall under the umbrella term "e-cigarettes," the use of different names to refer to e-cigarettes (eg, vapes, electronic vaping devices), and the use of different terminology to refer to e-cigarette use (eg, "vaping," "JUULing"), may lead some young e-cigarette users to incorrectly indicate nonuse. Therefore, we compared rates of endorsing lifetime e-cigarette use when adolescents were asked about lifetime e-cigarette use in two different ways.

Methods: In May to June 2018, a total of 1960 students from two high schools in Connecticut completed a computerized, school-based survey. Participants first reported on lifetime "e-cigarette" use and, subsequently, on lifetime use of five different e-cigarette devices: disposables, cig-a-likes, or E-hookahs; vape pens or Egos; JUULs; pod systems other than JUULs such as PHIX or Suorin; and advanced personal vaporizers or mods.

Results: In total, 35.8% of students endorsed lifetime "e-cigarette" use, whereas 51.3% endorsed lifetime use of at least one e-cigarette device. The kappa statistic indicated only 66.6% agreement between the methods of assessing e-cigarette use. Overall, 31.5% of adolescents who endorsed lifetime device use did not endorse lifetime "e-cigarette" use, although rates of discordant responding varied across subgroups of interest (eg, sex, race).

Conclusions: Assessing adolescents' use of specific e-cigarette devices likely yields more accurate results than assessing the use of "e-cigarettes." If these findings are replicated in a nationally representative sample, regulatory efforts requiring all e-cigarette devices to be clearly labeled as "e-cigarettes" may help to reduce confusion.

Implications: Different prevalence estimates of lifetime e-cigarette use were obtained depending on the way that prevalence was assessed. Specifically, fewer adolescents (35.8%) endorsed lifetime e-cigarette use when they were asked "Have you ever tried an e-cigarette, even one or two puffs?" than when they were queried about lifetime use of five different e-cigarette devices (51.3%). Among those who endorsed lifetime use of at least one specific e-cigarette device, 31.5% did not endorse lifetime "e-cigarette" use. These findings suggest that when assessing adolescents' lifetime e-cigarette use, using of terms referring to specific devices likely produces more accurate prevalence estimates than using the term "e-cigarettes."


Oxford University Press

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Nicotine & Tobacco Research



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