Introduction: Understanding what people think about harmful and potentially harmful constituents in cigarettes and cigarette smoke has new urgency given legislation requiring US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose constituent information. Our study sought to obtain qualitative information on what people think about these constituents and the language they use to talk about them.
Methods: We conducted six focus groups in 2014 with 40 adults in North Carolina. Open-ended questions focused on cigarette and cigarette smoke constituents in general and on the 18 constituents on the FDA's abbreviated list. We coded the transcripts for emergent themes, and all four coders discussed themes until we reached consensus.
Results: Participants knew that cigarette smoke contains chemicals but did not know how many chemicals nor what those chemicals are, beyond tar and nicotine. Dangers of constituents mentioned included "chemicals," physical disease, and addiction. Participants incorrectly believed harmful constituents came primarily from tobacco companies' additives. For unfamiliar constituents, people tried to make associations based on similar-sounding words. Recognizable constituents that participants associated with health harms most discouraged them from wanting to smoke. Most participants wanted to know health harms associated with constituents and what else the chemicals were in.
Conclusions: Participants showed enthusiasm for learning more information about constituents, and also showed substantial misunderstandings about the source of harmful constituents. Our findings contribute to the limited body of research on adults' knowledge and perceptions of cigarette smoke constituents and can aid the FDA as it plans to disclose constituent information to the public.
Implications: Our study provides information about adults' understanding of cigarette smoke constituents and what adults would like to know about these constituents. This information can help communication campaigns describe cigarette smoke constituents in a way that discourages people from wanting to smoke.
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