Objective To explore the prevalence and sociodemographic makeup of smokers who do not self-identify as smokers (ie, phantom smokers) compared with self-identifying smokers in a sample of bar-going young adults aged 18–30 years to more accurately assess young adult prevalence of smoking and inform cessation message targeting.
Methods Cross-sectional surveys of smokers (n=3089) were conducted in randomly selected bars/nightclubs in seven US cities. Logistic regression models assessed associations between phantom smoking (past 30-day smoking and denial of being a smoker), tobacco and alcohol use behaviours (eg, social smoking, nicotine dependence, smoking while drinking, past 30-day alcohol use) and demographics.
Results Compared with smokers, phantom smokers were more likely to be college graduates (OR=1.43, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.98) and to identify themselves as social smokers (OR=1.60, 95% CI 1.27 to 2.12). Phantom smokers had lower odds of smoking while drinking (OR=0.28, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.32), being nicotine dependent (OR=0.36, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.76) and having quit for at least 1 day in the last year (OR=0.46, 95% CI 0.36 to 0.69) compared with smokers.
Conclusions This research extends phantom smoking literature on college students to provide a broader picture of phantom smoking among young adults in high-risk contexts and of varying levels of educational attainment. Phantom smokers may be particularly sensitive to social pressures against smoking, suggesting the importance of identifying smoking as a behaviour (rather than identity) in cessation messaging to ensure that phantom smokers are reached.
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