Adolescents understanding of smoking and vaping risk language
Cognitive interviews to inform scale development
Introduction: Perceived message effectiveness (PME) is a common metric to understand receptivity to tobacco prevention messages, yet most measures have been developed with adults. We examined adolescents' interpretation of language within candidate items for a new youth-targeted PME measure using cognitive interviewing. We sought to understand the meaning adolescents assigned to our candidate PME items to improve item wording.
Aims and methods: Participants were 20 adolescents, ages 13-17 years from the United States. Cognitive interviews used a structured guide to elicit feedback on comprehension, answer retrieval, and language regarding a set of Reasoned Action Approach-based survey items that assessed the PME of smoking and vaping prevention ads. We employed thematic analysis to synthesize findings from the interviews.
Results: Interviews identified three main issues related to survey items: ambiguity of language, word choice (risk and other terminology), and survey item phrasing. Adolescents preferred direct, definitive language over more ambiguous phrasing which they saw as less serious (eg, "will" instead of "could"). For risk terminology, they preferred terms such as "harmful" and "dangerous" over "risky," which was viewed as easy to discount. The term "negative effects" was interpreted as encompassing a broader set of tobacco harms than "health effects." Adolescents said that the term "vape" was preferable to "e-cigarette," and identified ways to simplify item wording for greater clarity.
Conclusions: Tobacco risk terms that appear similar differ in meaning to adolescents, and more direct and unambiguous language is preferred. Our findings informed changes to the PME scale items to improve clarity and reduce measurement error.
Implications: This study adds to the literature on how adolescents interpret tobacco prevention language. Adolescents may interpret terminology differently than adults, which could lead to ambiguity in meaning and thus measurement error. Through cognitive interviewing, we identified and improved the language in a youth-focused PME measure for tobacco and vaping prevention.