Misperceptions are Common

Posted 7th January 2019 by Dave Cross
Research from King's College London finds smokers and ex-smokers in the UK overestimate the harm from vaping, with fewer than 6 out of 10 accurately believing that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.

Samara Wilson, Timea Partos, Ann McNeill, and Leonie Brose discovered that misperceptions appear to be on the increase and are particularly strong in smokers and those who have never tried vaping.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, was published last week in the journal Addiction. It used an Ipsos Mori survey of 1720 UK smokers and ex-smokers to discover their understanding and perceptions of nicotine, the relative harms of smoking, vaping and nicotine replacement therapy products.

Dr. Brose 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.”

  • 57.3% correctly said vaping was less harmful than smoking
  • 21.8% said vaping was as equally harmful as smoking
  • 3.3% said vaping was as more harmful than smoking
  • 17.6% didn't know

The team has conducted similar research in the past.

2012: 66.6% said vaping was less dangerous than smoking

2014: 60.4% said vaping was less dangerous than smoking

2017: 57.3% said vaping was less dangerous than smoking

Since 2012, the numbers of people who believe vaping is as dangerous as smoking has risen from 9% in 2012 to 16.9% in 2014, and to 21.8% in this study.

The team says: “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 wrongly believing nicotine is what causes cancer from smoking.”

“Smokers who have never vaped were more likely to have misperceptions about nicotine and the relative harm of e-cigarettes and NRT compared with tobacco cigarettes. On the other hand, smokers who had tried vaping or were regular vapers were more likely to say that a very small portion of the health risk in cigarettes comes from nicotine.”

Dr. Brose added: "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."

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's prevention expert, said: "While nicotine is addictive, it's the cocktail of 5000 different chemicals released during smoking that damages our DNA and can cause cancer. Nicotine products have been proven to help smokers quit and they're most effective when combined with behavioural support from Stop Smoking Services. It's vital that smokers aiming to quit have accurate information to help them find the best way to stop."

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."

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker