Risk And Benefit Perceptions in the Use of Conventional and Emerging Tobacco Products Among Older Smokers

Associate Professor, Department of Physiological Nursing - Gerontology/Oncology

The absolute negative health burden from smoking is greatest for adults over age 55. Older adults (>45) are growing in number and are the least likely to quit of any age group, perhaps because they underestimate both the risks for smoking and the benefits of cessation.Older age is positively correlated with rationalizing beliefs about quitting smoking: older smokers exhibit greater unrealistic optimism about their risks for tobacco-related diseases and death than their younger counterparts. At the same time, those aware of the link between physical symptoms and smoking and who understand the benefits of quitting are 12 times more likely to quit. While quitting smoking by age 50 halves the risk of lung cancer, and almost immediately decreases cardiovascular risk, older adults are often unaware of these benefits. A primary reason for these misperceptions is the tobacco industry’s heavy targeting and promotional efforts directed at older smokers for both conventional and emerging tobacco products. Tobacco industry marketing exposure distorts perceptions about the availability, use, and risks of tobacco. Currently, there is an increase in tobacco industry advertising to encourage cigarette smokers to use smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes in no-smoking areas and as an aid to decrease smoking. While these messages are likely to appeal strongly to older smokers, most research on tobacco marketing, risk perception and smoking behavior has been done with adolescents and young adults. This developmental project will:
 
1) Characterize older smokers’ perceptions of the risks and benefits associated with conventional and emerging tobacco products and determine the extent to which these perceptions relate to exposure to pro- and anti-tobacco messages, particularly aggressive new advertising promoting their dual use of emerging products with cigarettes to cope with smokefree environments; and
 
2) Elucidate older adult smokers’ perceptions of the role of the FDA as a credible source of information related to tobacco products.
 
This exploratory qualitative study will use eight 90-minute focus groups with 8-10 older adult (>45) current smokers per group. This will be the first study to provide insight into risk and benefit perceptions of older adults regarding the use of conventional, new and emerging tobacco products, how pro- and anti-tobacco messages affect these perceptions, and how these perceptions affect tobacco use. The results will be important first steps to characterize the tobacco consumer decision making model as it applies to older adults, an important group with distinct motivations, influences, and economic impact.