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The Impact of Conflicting Advice

Researchers at the University of Bath and the University of Bristol have looked at the effect of conflicting public health guidance on smokers’ and vapers’ e-cigarette harm perceptions

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Researchers at the University of Bath and the University of Bristol have looked at the effect of conflicting public health guidance on smokers’ and vapers’ e-cigarette harm perceptions. The paper was published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. It comes as ex-New Nicotine Alliance chair Martin Cullip warns that Public Health’s misinformation against vaping is eroding its credibility.

The Bath and Bristol team say that the growing view of electronic cigarettes and vaping is negative and that, “incorrectly”, vapes are seen as more harmful than cigarettes.

They say: “This may discourage smokers from switching to e-cigarettes. One potential explanation for these increasingly harmful attitudes is conflicting information presented in the media, online and from public health bodies.”

They spoke to 334 smokers who do not vape and 368 people who vape every day. They were sorted into randomised groups and exposed to one of the following messages:

  1. Consistent harm reduction statement from two different public health bodies (Harm Reduction)
  2. A consistent negative statement about e-cigarette harms from two different public health bodies (Negative)
  3. A harm reduction statement from one public health body and a negative statement from another (Conflict)
  4. A statement of the risks of smoking followed by a harm reduction statement from one public health body and a negative statement from another (Smoking Risk + Conflict).

They found: “The Negative condition had the highest e-cigarette harm perceptions, significantly higher than the Smoking Risk + Conflict condition, which did not differ from the Conflict condition.

“The Conflict condition differed from the Harm Reduction condition, where harm perceptions were lowest.”

The team concluded: “These findings are the first to demonstrate that, compared to harm reduction information, conflicting information increases e-cigarette harm perceptions amongst vapers, and smokers who do not vape.”

Writing about the problem being caused by Public Health figures spreading misinformation, Martin Cullip warns: “Respected voices in the public health community have warned of a breakdown in trust in their profession if the dishonest, damaging and often vicious campaign against safer alternatives to smoking by some of their colleagues continues to misinform the public.”

Millions have seen their loved ones manage to successfully quit smoking thanks to switching to vaping. What can they think of ‘experts’ who tell them vaping is bad or dangerous when they’ve witnessed the improved health of their friends and relations?

Anti-vaping crusaders are not helping the wider health community with their actions. If officials keep blowing their credibility with the public over vaping, it could be storing up future problems,” says Cullip.

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Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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