Exploring Source Credibility and Message Theme Impacts: Developing E-Cigarette Health Message for College Students

Andie S. Malterud

Major Professor: Kevin B Wright, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Xiaoquan Zhao, Melissa Broeckelman-Post

Online Location,
July 19, 2021, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine through vapor, which is inhaled by users and known as vaping. E-cigarette use has increased rapidly among young adults, raising over 46% between 2013-2018 (Dai & Leventhal, 2019). Problematically, there is conflicting information regarding the risks of e-cigarettes. Some scholars argue that e-cigarettes are effective tools for assisting in the cessation of cigarette smoking (Du et al., 2020) while other research points to the numerous health harms associated with vaping (Glynn et al., 2021). Health campaigns have been effective at preventing youth and young adults from initiating tobacco use (Xuan & Choi, 2021; Zeller, 2020) and could serve as an inoculation against misinformation about the harms of vaping (Katz et a., 2020). However, further research is needed to better understand which sources young adults trust for e-cigarette information and which message themes are effective at preventing e-cigarette initiation.  

An experimental survey design tested four message sources and four message themes with college students to determine perceived credibility, perceived message effectiveness, and which messages increased willingness to communicate about health, self-efficacy, and behavioral intentions to avoid e-cigarette use. Results showed that government and public health agencies’ health campaigns were viewed as credible sources. Further, the nicotine message theme was perceived as more credible when compared to the health, ingredients, and uncertainty themes. Practical implications for health campaign developers are discussed.