Association Between Changes in Harm Perceptions and E-Cigarette Use Among Current Tobacco Smokers in England: A Time Series Analysis

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: In recent years, fewer people believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional smoking. This study finds that this reduction in accurate harm perceptions was accompanied by a decline in e-cigarette use among current tobacco smokers in England between 2014 and 2019. This finding highlights the need for an increase in media portrayals and public health campaigns focusing on the reduced health harms by switching from combustible tobacco to e-cigarettes and a reduction in alarmist media coverage.

For every 1% decrease in the mean prevalence of current tobacco smokers who endorsed the belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes, the mean prevalence of e-cigarette use decreased by about 0.5%. Significant associations were observed in older adults and in men.

Longitudinal surveys of nationally representative samples report a decreasing trend in the proportion of individuals who perceive e-cigarettes to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes. The proportion of adults who perceive e-cigarettes to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes range from 21% to 85%.

Harm perceptions are influenced by media depictions of e-cigarettes, increased use, and marketing. These concerns may have been amplified by frequent media reports focusing on the absolute (as opposed to relative) health risks of e-cigarettes or graphic, highly emotive depictions of e-cigarette explosions, or e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury.

Changes in the proportion of tobacco smokers who endorsed the belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes were significantly associated with changes in the proportion who use e-cigarettes in those aged 25–64 years and those aged 65 and over. 

In those aged 16–24 years, however, there was no significant association between this belief and the use of e-cigarettes. Similarly, for women, there was no significant association between this belief and the use of e-cigarettes. No differences by social grade were detected.

These findings indicate that more accurate portrayals of the relative safety of e-cigarettes are needed to advance the public health goal of getting more people to quit traditional smoking.

Read the full study HERE

Feature Charticle

Monthly Prevalence of Current Tobacco Smokers Endorsing the Belief That E-Cigarettes Are Less Harmful Than Combustible Cigarettes

BMC Medicine

Findings:

  • Longitudinal surveys of nationally representative samples report a decreasing trend in the proportion of individuals who perceive e-cigarettes to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes. 
  • The proportion of adults who perceive e-cigarettes to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes range from 21% to 85%.
  • For every 1% decrease in the mean prevalence of current tobacco smokers who endorsed the belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes, the mean prevalence of e-cigarette use decreased by about 0.5%. 

Read the full study HERE