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Tob Control. 2020 Feb 11. pii: tobaccocontrol-2019-055368. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2019-055368. [Epub ahead of print]

It's Just Steam: a qualitative analysis of New Zealand ENDS users' perceptions of secondhand aerosol.

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Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand.
Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand.
Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, Somerset, UK.
Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, Durham, UK.



Many smokers who begin using electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) report vaping in settings where they would not have smoked and believe secondhand aerosol (SHA) is simply steam. However, current understanding of how ENDS users differentiate between secondhand smoke and SHA, or how vaping norms develop, is limited.


We conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 39 current ENDS users (dual users and former smokers, now exclusive ENDS users) from New Zealand to explore participants' perceptions of SHA. We probed how these perceptions arose and examined implications for vaping practices and policy. We managed the data using NVivo V.11 and used a thematic analysis approach to interpret the transcripts.


Participants had limited understanding of SHA, its constituents or its possible effects on others. They drew on the absence of harm information, and their sensory experiences and perceptions of others' views of vaping, to support the conclusion that SHA posed few, if any, risks to bystanders. Yet despite this perception, some felt they should recognise others' rights to clean air and most would not vape around children to avoid setting an example.


In the absence of trusted information, participants used sensory heuristics to rationalise their ENDS practices. Policy-makers face the challenge of correcting misperceptions about SHA without deterring full transition from smoking to ENDS use. They could consider including vaping in current smoke-free area policies; this measure would signal that SHA is not harmless, and could protect clean-air settings and reduce potential normalisation of vaping among non-smokers.


electronic nicotine delivery devices; public policy; secondhand smoke

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Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: None declared.

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