Research from King’s College London, UK, finds smokers and ex-smokers overestimate the vaping dangers of e-cigarettes.
The Cancer Research UK-funded study assessed the knowledge about nicotine, perceptions of the relative harms of smoking, and vaping dangers, e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). With fewer than 6 out of 10 accurately believing that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
What do you know about vaping dangers?
Dr Leonie Brose, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, and lead researcher said: “Tobacco cigarettes kill over half of those who smoke long-term, yet very few people know that nicotine is not the direct cause of smoking-related death and disease.”
“We found those people who think nicotine is to blame for harms from smoking are more likely to think e-cigarettes and NRT are just as bad as smoking.”
When asked about the relative harms of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes only 57.3% correctly said vaping was less harmful than smoking, while 21.8% said equally harmful, 3.3% said more harmful and 17.6% didn’t know. For NRT, 63.4% said it was less harmful than smoking.
Previous research from the same team suggests the proportion of people with accurate knowledge is dropping: in 2012, 66.6% individuals said vaping was less dangerous than smoking, with 60.4% in 2014 and 57.3% in 2017. At the same time, the proportion of people who think smoking and vaping dangers are equal is rising, from 9% in 2012 to 16.9% in 2014 and 21.8% in 2017.
While efforts were made to make sure participants represented different demographics, the authors highlight that the results of the study may not fully represent the general smoking population.
Correcting misperceptions around nicotine
Knowledge about nicotine was particularly poor, with nearly nine out of ten misattributing a greater portion of the risk in smoking to nicotine, and nearly four out of ten incorrectly believing nicotine is what causes cancer from smoking.
Brose adds: “It is possible that smokers may not try e-cigarettes or NRT due to inaccurate beliefs about nicotine and vaping. A lot of public discussion and media reporting focuses on harms from vaping, but we rarely see any reports on how deadly smoking is – 1500 people die from smoking-related illness every week in England alone.
“Correcting misperceptions around nicotine may help smokers move towards less harmful nicotine delivery methods.”
Previous research by the same team found that smokers who perceived vaping to be less harmful than smoking were more likely to try e-cigarettes. The researchers are planning a study to see if it is possible to change smokers’ behaviour by correcting their misperceptions about nicotine, smoking and vaping.
Responding to the new study, Martin Dockrell, Tobacco Control Lead at Public Health England, said: “There is still work to do to reassure smokers that vaping, while not risk free, is much less harmful than smoking. If you smoke, switching to an e-cigarette could save your life.”