Prevalence and correlates of nicotine and nicotine product perceptions in U.S. young adults, 2016

Addict Behav. 2019 Nov;98:106020. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.06.009. Epub 2019 Jun 10.


Introduction: Nicotine is not a human carcinogen and combustion compounds in tobacco smoke, rather than nicotine, cause tobacco-related cardiovascular disease. Few recent studies examine the public's beliefs about nicotine in relation to smoking.

Methods: Participants aged 18-40 (n = 4,091) in Wave 10 (Fall 2016) of the Truth Initiative Young Adult Cohort Study responded to nineteen items on nicotine and nicotine product perceptions, including addictiveness and health harms of nicotine patch/gum and e-cigarettes compared to cigarettes. Analyses conducted in 2018 examined prevalence of perceptions and sociodemographic and tobacco use correlates of selected perceptions.

Results: The majority of young adults reported that nicotine was responsible for a "relatively" or "very large" part of the health risks (66%) and cancer (60%) caused by smoking. More than half of young adults (55%) believed that nicotine is a cause of cancer. Between 23% and 43% of young adults responded "don't know" to items on nicotine. Females, blacks, Hispanics, and those with less than some college education were more likely to report true or "don't know" vs. false to "nicotine is a cause of cancer" and had higher odds of believing that nicotine was responsible for a "relatively" or "very large" part of the health risks of smoking and cancer caused by smoking. Past 30-day tobacco users had lower odds of reporting these beliefs.

Conclusions: Misperceptions of nicotine are widespread in young adults. Public education is needed to maximize the public health impact of FDA's required nicotine warning label and proposed nicotine reduction policies.

Keywords: Nicotine; harm perceptions; reduced nicotine content; smoking; young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced
  • Cohort Studies
  • Culture*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
  • Female
  • Health Policy
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Nicotine / adverse effects*
  • Nicotine Chewing Gum / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Tobacco Products / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices / adverse effects
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotine Chewing Gum
  • Nicotine