Cigarettes vs. E-Cigarettes: Policy Implications from a Focus Group Study

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Family and Consumer Sciences

Publication Date



Background: Rates of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarette) use (vaping) have increased among college students over the past decade. Objectives: The current study sought to provide an in-depth examination of college students’ beliefs about and attitudes toward cigarettes and e-cigarettes that may influence support/non-support of tobacco-free policies on college campuses and within their communities. Methods: Between August and December 2015, five focus groups (n = 22) were conducted at a large Southern University. Focus group discussions addressed social acceptance and areas where students commonly smoked/vaped on campus. Sessions were transcribed verbatim. Two researchers independently coded the transcripts and identified themes. A third researcher independently reviewed the coding and thematic analysis process (triangulation of researchers). Results: Participants expressed positive attitudes toward smoke-free policies that did not target college students, especially those that protected vulnerable populations (e.g., children). However, some were skeptical of tobacco-free policies that included e-cigarettes. Participants believed the campus tobacco-free policy had moved smokers’ behavior off campus, but many reported seeing people vape in locations where smoking was not allowed (i.e., library, dorm rooms). Most perceived smoking to be less acceptable than vaping; smoking was described as ‘dirty’, while vaping was glamorized as a cultural trend. Conclusions/Importance: Findings from our qualitative study suggest that college students are supportive of smoke-free policies, but they are less supportive of comprehensive tobacco-free policies that include e-cigarettes. College campuses and surrounding communities should plan for education about policy protection via communication channels viewed frequently by students when including vaping devices in their comprehensive tobacco-free policies/ordinances.


This article was originally published in Substance Use & Misuse. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Substance Use & Misuse