Perception of the Relative Harm of Electronic Cigarettes Compared to Cigarettes Amongst US adults from 2013 to 2016

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: American adults are poorly informed about the relative safety of e-cigarettes. This ignorance may be contributing to an artificially high number of smokers, endangering public health. There is an urgent need to communicate the relative safety of e-cigarettes to encourage smokers to quit.  

In an analysis of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, the proportion of American adults correctly identifying electronic cigarettes as less harmful than cigarettes has declined from 41% in 2013 to 25% in 2016. In contrast, the share that believes e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful has risen from 54% to 73%. The proportion of U.S. adults who held negative relative harm perceptions of e-cigarettes increased regardless of current smoking or vaping status.

Former smokers who used e-cigarettes and believed the latter are more harmful had a significantly higher rate of smoking relapse than those who held correct views about their danger.

Ignorance of the relative safety of e-cigarettes is a public health concern. Recent clinical research indicates that e-cigarettes are almost twice as effective at helping adult smokers quit cigarettes compared to medically licensed nicotine replacement therapies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the prevalence of current e-cigarette use among US adults is between 2.8 and 3.5%, the majority of whom are reported to be either “current” or “former” smokers, who use e-cigarettes “every day” or “some days." The rise in e-cigarette use has been associated with the first statistically significant increase in smoking cessation rates among U.S. adult smokers in 15 years.

Previous research has demonstrated that safety and health concerns are a prominent reason given by adult smokers for either not trying e-cigarettes or stopping e-cigarette use, and returning to smoking cigarettes. Adult smokers who are poorly informed, or hold inaccurate beliefs about the relative harm of e-cigarettes may be deterred from trying these products, potentially resulting in sustained smoking or relapse to smoking following a quit attempt. 

An accurate perception of the relative harm of EC is therefore critical in motivating adult smokers to try, and remain, using these products over exclusive lifelong cigarette use. Health agencies and regulators globally should aim to provide adult smokers with clear, objective and evidence-based health information on the differential risks between using cigarettes and other products. 

Read the full study HERE

Feature Charticle

Relative Harm Perceptions of E-Cigarettes

Harm Reduction Journal

Findings:

  • American adults are poorly informed about the relative safety of e-cigarettes. 
  • The proportion of American adults correctly identifying electronic cigarettes as less harmful than cigarettes has declined from 41% in 2013 to 25% in 2016.
  • The share that believes e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful has risen from 54% to 73%.
  • This ignorance may be contributing to an artificially high number of smokers, endangering public health. 

Read the full study HERE