To examine whether perceived injunctive and descriptive social norms towards cigarette and nicotine vaping product (NVP) use predicted subsequent trying NVPs and attempts to quit cigarette smoking amongst current smokers, and whether associations varied across countries.
Three waves of longitudinal cohort data from the International Tobacco Control Four Country Smoking and Vaping Survey collected between 2016 and 2020 from 2,290 adult smokers in Canada, Australia, England, and the United States who had never used NVPs at baseline (either Wave 1 or Wave 2) and followed up at the subsequent wave (Wave 2 or Wave 3, respectively) were analysed using Generalised Estimating Equations.
Of the injunctive and descriptive norm measures for smoking and NVP use, NVP initiation was only independently predicted by the injunctive interpersonal norm for NVP use, with perceived approval of NVP use by important others predicting higher odds of trying NVPs (AOR=1.65, 95% CI=1.20–2.27). This predictive effect was independent of baseline quit intention with no country variations found. By contrast, making cigarette smoking quit attempts was independently predicted by both injunctive and descriptive interpersonal norms with perceived disapproval of smoking by important others (AOR=1.65, 95% CI=1.38–1.99) and close friends using NVPs (AOR=1.37, 95% CI=1.04–1.79), both associated with higher odds of smoking quit attempts.
Adult smokers who perceive NVP use as normative, either because such behaviour is socially approved or common within their close social networks, appear more inclined to try NVPs or make smoking quit attempts than smokers who do not.
What this study adds: Social norms can shape a person’s behaviour and result in behaviour change. This study shows that initiation of NVP use behaviour among smokers can be reliably predicted by their perception of whether NVP use is acceptable to those important to them within their close social networks. Similarly, any attempts to stop cigarette smoking can be predicted by their perception of how acceptable cigarette smoking is among those who are important to them and whether any of their close friends use NVPs. Changing social norms towards cigarette smoking and NVP use could therefore be incorporated into smoking cessation interventions to help smokers to quit and/or switch to NVP use.