Knowledge about Chemicals in e-Cigarette Secondhand Vapor and Perceived Harms of Exposure among a National Sample of U.S. Adults

Andy S.L. Tan, Susan Mello, Ashley Sanders-Jackson, Cabral A. Bigman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Potentially harmful chemicals are detectable in e-cigarette secondhand vapor (hereafter SHV), contrary to advertising and marketing claims that it contains “only water vapor.” We assessed public knowledge about the presence of chemicals in SHV and associations between knowledge and perceived harms of exposure to SHV. We conducted an online survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,449 U.S. adults (GfK's KnowledgePanel) from October to December 2013. Respondents were asked whether e-cigarette vapor contains only water vapor, contains tar, or contains formaldehyde (true/ false/ do not know). Responses to these three items were recoded (1 = incorrect, 2 = do not know, and 3 = correct) and averaged into a knowledge scale. They were also asked if they perceived breathing SHV to be harmful to one's health (two-item scale) and comparative harm of breathing SHV versus breathing secondhand smoke (SHS). Multiple regression analyses were weighted to the U.S. adult population and adjusted for potential confounders. Most respondents (58–75%) reported not knowing whether SHV contained only water vapor, if SHV contained tar, and if it contained formaldehyde. African-American respondents (vs. white) and current smokers (vs. nonsmokers) had lower levels of knowledge about chemicals in SHV. Adjusting for covariates, correct knowledge about chemicals in SHV was associated with higher perceived harms about SHV for one's health and perceived comparative harm of SHV versus SHS. These findings suggest a need to provide accurate information about the presence of chemicals in SHV (e.g., using product ingredient labels or public education).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1170-1180
Number of pages11
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Chemicals in secondhand vapor
  • electronic cigarette
  • perceived harm
  • public beliefs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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