The impact of flavor descriptors on nonsmoking teens’ and adult smokers’ interest in electronic cigarettes

Smokers switching completely from combustible cigarettes to  e-cigarettes are likely to reduce health risk, suggesting that e-cigarettes should be made appealing to adult smokers. However, uptake of e-cigarettes by nonsmoking teens would add risk without benefit and should be avoided. Although e-cigarette flavors may appeal to adult smokers, the concern is that flavors might attract nonsmoking teens.

Published: 7 January 2015

Positive: Yes

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Saul Shiffman, PhD
Mark A. Sembower, MS
Janine L. Pillitteri, PhD
Karen K. Gerlach, PhD,, MPH
Joe G. Gitchell, BA




Nonsmoking teens (n=216, ages 13-17, no tobacco in past 6 months) and adult smokers (n=432, ages 19-80, smoking 3+ years; could have used e-cigarettes) were recruited from an Internet research panel. In assessments completed online (May 22 to June 13, 2014), participants indicated their interest (0-10 scale) in e-cigarettes paired with various flavor descriptors. These were mixed (order balanced) with similar flavor offerings for ice cream and bottled water to mask the focus on e-cigarettes and validate the assessment. Mixed models contrasted interest between teens and adults and among adults by e-cigarette history.


Nonsmoking teens’ interest in e-cigarettes was very low (mean 0.41±0.14[SE] on 0-10 scale). Adult smokers’ interest (1.73±0.10), while modest, was significantly higher overall (p<0.0001) and for each flavor (most p-values<0.0001). Teen interest did not vary by flavor (p=0.75), but adult interest did (p<0.0001). Past-30-day adult e-cigarette users had the greatest interest in e-cigarettes, and their interest was most affected by flavor. Adults who never tried e-cigarettes had the lowest interest, yet still higher than nonsmoking teens’ interest (p<0.0001).


The e-cigarette flavors tested appealed more to adult smokers than to nonsmoking teens, but interest in flavors was low for both groups.

Complete study in pdf: N/A