Abstract: Understanding E-Cigarette Prevention Ad Effectiveness: A Comparison of Message and Effects Perceptions

◆ Jacob A. Rohde, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
◆ Seth M. Noar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
◆ Hannah Prentice-Dunn, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
◆ Alex Kresovich, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
◆ Marissa G. Hall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
◆ Noel T. Brewer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Background. The United States is currently experiencing a national epidemic of e-cigarette use among youth, with nearly 30% of high school students reporting vaping in the past 30 days. This has added new urgency among researchers and practitioners to develop effective youth vaping prevention campaigns. Development and selection of youth tobacco prevention ads commonly relies on perceived message effectiveness (PME) ratings, but such ratings have seldom been applied to e-cigarette prevention. We compared two types of PME to determine which one better predicted the actual impact of e-cigarette prevention ads on adolescents: message perceptions (general perceptions of an ad) or effects perceptions (perceptions of how an ad would affect me). We also aimed to examine the impact of e-cigarette prevention ads on risk beliefs, attitudes toward vaping, and intentions to vape.

Methods. Participants were a national convenience sample of 543 adolescents aged 13-17, recruited in 2019 through a standing panel. In an online experiment, we randomized participants to one of two conditions: 1) two The Real Cost e-cigarette prevention ads developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA condition) or 2) two information-only e-cigarette ads developed by the Mayo Clinic (control condition). After ad exposure, we assessed message perceptions (6 items; α=.93) and effects perceptions (13 items; α=.96). We also assessed actual impact of ads on risk beliefs about vaping (9 items; α=.93), attitudes toward vaping (3 items; α=.89), and intentions to vape (3 items; α=.95). We used descriptive statistics to characterize the sample and independent samples t-tests to assess differences between experimental conditions. We also computed multivariate linear regression analyses adjusting for demographic and smoking-related covariates to examine associations between each type of PME and adolescents’ risk beliefs, attitudes toward vaping, and intentions to vape.

Results. Mean participant age was 15 years, and most were White (80%). Roughly half (51%) were female and 15% identified as Hispanic. Approximately one-third of participants were current e-cigarette users. Compared to control, FDA e-cigarette prevention ads scored higher on both message perceptions (p<.001) and effects perceptions (p<.001). With respect to actual impact, FDA ads increased risk beliefs about vaping (p<.001) and negative attitudes toward vaping (p<.001), and reduced intentions to vape (p<.05). In separate multivariate analyses, both effects and message perceptions were significantly associated with risk beliefs about vaping, attitudes toward vaping, and intentions to vape (all p<.001). Effects perceptions, however, explained more total variance than message perceptions in risk beliefs (R2=.57 vs. R2=.33), attitudes toward vaping (R2=.45 vs. R2=.35), and intentions to vape (R2=.46 vs. R2=.37).

Conclusions. Among adolescents, FDA’s vaping prevention ads were more effective than control ads as indicated by both perceived and actual impact measures. While both types of PME predicted ad impact, effects perceptions predicted more variance in actual effectiveness outcomes than message perceptions and, we speculate, may be superior as an indicator of ad impact. This is an important finding given that the FDA assesses only message perceptions in their current youth tobacco prevention campaigns.