Purpose: To explore cigar use perceptions among urban African American youth.
Methods: A convenience sample (n = 50) of African American volunteer participants, ages 14- 18, participated in six audiotaped focus groups conducted in two California cities. Transcriptions were analyzed using iterative strategies.
Results: Most youth believed cigars were harmful to health, yet a disjuncture existed between this abstract belief and the socially embedded understandings revealed in discussions. Some youth felt that cigars were more "natural" and therefore less harmful than cigarettes. For some, that understanding rested on a mistaken assumption that nicotine was an artificial additive not present in cigars. Youth had received little cigar-specific health education. They reported that cigars were easily obtained, noted cigars' social cachet, and drew attention to new brands targeting youth.
Implications: Perceptions of risk are not merely interesting "subjective" findings but are important determinants of actual use patterns and may not correlate with abstract beliefs. Recent cigarette brand repositionings, such as Winston's "no additives" campaign, have widely publicized the many substances added to cigarettes. Some youth may take lack of cigar-specific preventive education as an indication that cigars do not contain such substances, including nicotine. Misperceptions about risks of cigar and cigar/marijuana smoking must be addressed through consistent, coordinated, and comprehensive tobacco control efforts for all tobacco products.