Background: Pervasive misperceptions about nicotine may influence uptake of quit smoking aids and the impact of policies addressing nicotine as a tobacco product constituent. Methods: Latent class analyses were conducted using four items on nicotine beliefs asked of 4037 adults aged 18-40 in wave 9 (February-March 2016) of the Truth Initiative Young Adult Cohort Study. Confirmatory factor analyses identified three factors from 12 items: nicotine susceptibility (NSUS), nicotine severity (NSEV), and tobacco severity (TSEV). Analyses assessed correlations between latent classes, sociodemographics, and nicotine/tobacco factor scores. Results: A four-class model of nicotine beliefs was the best fit, with the largest class believing that nicotine plays a major part in smoking risks (class 1, n = 2070; 52%). Class 2 shared that belief but also responded "Don't know" to addiction questions (class 2, n = 382; 11%). Fewer belonged in class 3, who reported that nicotine plays a small part in health risks (n = 1277; 30%), and class 4, who perceived nicotine as not cancer causing (n = 308; 7%). Latent class membership was correlated with sociodemographics, peer smoking, and past 30-day tobacco use. Classes 1 and 2 had similar NSUS scores and classes 3 and 4 had similar NSEV and TSEV scores. Discussion: Differences in the perceptions of nicotine and tobacco-related harms can be partially explained by clustering of underlying nicotine beliefs. These classes of beliefs are correlated with sociodemographic predictors of smoking. These findings may help to identify specific beliefs or groups to be targeted by public education efforts on nicotine. Implications: The current study supports that underlying nicotine beliefs are associated with perceived harms of specific nicotine and tobacco products (relative to cigarettes), with greater false beliefs about nicotine correlated with greater perceived susceptibility to nicotine addiction. Two important inferences emerge from this study: first, that education to address nicotine beliefs may also reframe perceptions of the harms of nicotine and tobacco products; and second, that this type of education may differentially impact perceptions of the harms of nicotine products (e.g., nicotine replacement therapy and e-cigarettes) and tobacco products (e.g., cigars, smokeless, and hookah).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health