SMOKERS' UNEXPECTED COMMENTS ON CIGARETTE ADDITIVES DURING FOCUS GROUPS EXAMINING BELIEFS ABOUT SMOKING AND GENETICS
Methods: Participants were 89 smokers recruited from a medium-sized Midwestern city. Focus groups (N=13) were conducted. Groups were stratified by race (8 African American, 5 White) and education (7 <Bachelor’s degree, 6 Bachelor’s or more). Data were analyzed by 2 independent coders using standard analysis and validation techniques.
Results: Comments about cigarette additives arose organically. Some participants discussed additives in ways that deflected the health risks of tobacco use. For example, several participants attributed their addiction to additives rather than tobacco itself: “I think if they took all the products that they put in cigarettes out, there would not be as many smokers as there [are] now.” Other participants attributed specific negative health consequences of smoking to the additives: “I don’t think it’s the tobacco that’s killin’ me, it’s the chemicals and stuff they put in it.” Discussing additives also helped participants navigate the conceptual link between smoking and genetics. For example, one participant stated, “[tobacco companies] could put something in [cigarettes] to make a risk to the genetics.” In a few cases, participants used their beliefs about the addictive nature of additives to reject the idea that there was a genetic link to nicotine addiction: “[It’s] the products they put in the cigarettes, I believe, is the addiction. Not just the tobacco itself, which means that it’s not genetic.” Notably, discussions of additives contained a pervasive tone of mistrust. This was illustrated by words like “they” and “them,” by statements of uncertainty such as “you don’t know what they’re putting into the cigarettes,” and by negative affective reactions such as “nasty” and “disgusting.”
Conclusion: Participants had distinct understandings about cigarette additives, which helped deflect the health risks of smoking and understand the smoking-genetic link. Although the overarching aura of mistrust may complicate communication about the health risks of tobacco use, health communication experts could use smokers’ beliefs and feelings to design better anti-smoking messaging.