Consumer Perceptions of E-cigarettes: A Comparison of Smokers and Non-Smokers
in a Mechanical Turk Sample
Sebastian Bauhoff, PhD1
, Adrian Montero, MBA1
, & Deborah Scharf, PhD2
RAND Corporation, Arlington, VA, USA; 2
RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Summary Methods Cont’d
Disclosures: Dr. Bauhoff, Mr. Montero and Dr. Scharf did not receive funding for this project. They have no financial conflicts of interest to disclose.
E-cigarettes are gaining in popularity but consumers have incomplete
information about their potential risks. The FDA is planning to address
this informational need by extending its regulatory authority to e-
cigarettes. Information about public perceptions of e-cigarettes,
including their availability, cost, benefits and risks can enable FDA to
implement policies that effectively protect the public health. Examining
this information separately for smokers and non-smokers is particularly
important since prior tobacco product experience is expected to be
related to perceptions of and intentions to use e-cigarettes.
Given plans to extend its regulatory authority to e-cigarettes, the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) has
immediate need for information about how e-cigarettes are commonly
perceived. We used Mechanical Turk (Mturk), a “crowdsourcing” labor
market platform, to rapidly survey a large (n=797) sample of never
(56%) and ever smokers (44%), with (28%), and without (67%), e-
cigarette experience, about their perceptions of e-cigarettes. Data
suggests that many perceptions and beliefs about e-cigarettes are
widespread. However, smokers and non-smokers may have different
reasons for wanting to try or avoid e-cigarettes, and public health
messages addressing e-cigarette use may need to be tailored
separately to smokers and non-smokers.
To describe smokers’ and non-smokers’ perceptions of, and reasons for
trying and not trying e-cigarettes.
N= 797 participants
• 83% Caucasian
• 40% young adults (ages 25-34)
• 65% completed some college or a bachelor’s degree
• 44% had ever smoked traditional cigarettes
• 28% had ever tried e-cigarettes
Participants (95%) were widely aware of e-cigarettes.
Demographics and smoking items were from BRFSS.
Researchers developed qualitative codes for open-ended items
(why/why not try e-cigarettes). Ten percent of coded data were validated
and inter-rater reliability was high.
Figure 1. Participants learned about e-cigarettes mainly from the
internet, conversations and TV. Smokers were also likely to have
learned about e-cigarettes from advertising in stores.
Figure 2. Smokers reported that e-cigarettes were cheaper than cigarettes
on a cost-per-use basis. Non-smokers reported the opposite belief
• Novel use of Mturk to quickly generate policy-relevant information about
• Smokers and non-smokers may learn about e-cigarettes from different
sources, and they may form different opinions about their safety, cost,
desirability, and intentions for future use.
• Different public health messages, and outlets for those messages, may
be needed to effectively control e-cigarette use in populations of ever
and never smokers.
Participants were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Mturk) in
Mturk is a pre-packaged, integrated recruitment and compensation
system. It includes a large participant pool and tools to screen and filter
participants for individual studies.
MTurk users eligible for this study were adults aged 18-64 who
connected from a U.S.-based server.
Participants clicked on a link for a “Social Science Study” and provided
informed consent. They were paid $0.75 for a completed survey.
The study survey had 35 questions and took 10 minutes to complete.
Never Smoker Ever Smoker Total
Never User 361 (81%) 88 (25%) 534 (67%)
Ever User 62 (14%) 253 (72%) 223 (28%)
Missing 23 (5%) 10 (3%) 40 (5%)
Total 446 (100%) 351 (100%) 797 (100%)
*Percentages are for columns
Table 1. Ever smokers (72%) were more likely than never smokers
(14%) to have tried e-cigarettes (p<0.001).
Cheaper About the same More expensive
Figure 3. Smokers were more likely than non-smokers to report that e-
cigarettes help with quitting smoking (p<0.01).
• Among never users of e-cigarettes, ever smokers were
more likely than never smokers to report intentions to try
e-cigarettes (42% vs. 7%; p<0.01)
Figure 4. Top 5 reasons for trying e-cigarettes: Smokers would try for help
with cessation and non-smokers would try out of curiosity.
Figure 5. Top 5 reasons for NOT trying e-cigarettes: Smokers had concerns
about expense and safety; non-smokers said that they did not want to smoke.