Messaging that works to reach young vapers

Encouraging young people to think about their actions, might be the most effective way to communicate the dangers of e-cigarette use.

With vaping on the rise among young people, researchers are turning their minds to effective public messaging about the harms.

Dr Joshua Trigg, a senior research fellow at Flinders University, says it’s important to use messaging approaches that are going to resonate well with the target audience. 

Trigg is an author of new Flinders University research investigating the responses of 16 to 26 year olds to different vaping prevention campaigns, publishing the results in Health Promotional International.

While “fear appeals” might grab attention, he says, challenging young people to think about what they’re doing, might be a more effective approach for those already using e-cigarettes. 

The research focused on a younger cohort with access to vaping products – whether legitimately purchased or illegitimately obtained – and high rates of use.

“We wanted to know how people react to these campaigns, what they feel resonates well, how they might perceive them.”

They tested the responses of a group of South Australian young people to 3 different approaches: fear based (‘The real cost’), informative and measured (‘Unveil what you inhale’), and a third using social media marketing tactics of symbolism and colours (‘Do you know what you’re vaping?’).

Based on the feedback, Trigg says one lesson is not to make assumptions about the settings or contexts in which people vape.

He says, it’s also important to avoid dense or obscure language, which might cause people to scroll on, or gloss over the content that has supportive resources.

Trigg says their research shows ‘fear appeals’ can cut through and get people’s attention. But can also affect people’s ability to process health information. Young people who are already vaping may not view that content to the end.

Trigg says the research is important as public health campaigns and messages developed for tobacco control, won’t necessarily work when it comes to vaping.

E-cigarettes are different to cigarettes, he says. They are used in different social contexts, and viewed by younger people as less harmful relative to tobacco. 

“So we’ve got kind of a different mindset in people who might use these products. And they can use them for different reasons”.

Messaging is also complicated by the cohort of adults who use vapes under medical supervision as a way to stop using tobacco.

The fourth season of ‘Debunks’, the new podcast series from the Cosmos newsroom and Nine Podcasts, explores the science behind vaping.

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