Misconception Amongst Uk Smokers On The Belief That Vaping Is As Harmful As Smoking

Misconception Amongst UK Smokers on the Belief that Vaping is as Harmful as Smoking – 2024

E-cigarettes are less harmful to users than traditional cigarettes, however due to public health and media reports often overstating the potential risks of vaping and drawing misconceptions, UK smokers are now underestimating the safety and benefits of switching to e-cigarettes, with “many adults believing that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful to health as cigarettes.”

Misconceptions are becoming more widespread

57% of UK smokers considered vaping
equally as harmful as smoking

A study funded by Cancer Research UK took responses from over 28,000 UK smokers between 2014 and 2023, with findings that public perceptions of e-cigarettes had greatly worsened.

In 2014, whilst vape products were still relatively fresh on the market, 30% of smokers believed vaping to be equally as harmful as smoking and 44% correctly considered vaping to be less harmful. This figure unfortunately dropped to 27% in June 2023, with 57% of respondents believing that vaping was equally as harmful.

Lead author on the study, Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care), said: “These findings have important implications for public health. The risks of vaping are much lower than the risks of smoking and this isn’t being clearly communicated to people.

Uclsarahjackson 1
Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL)
vocalises that communication on
vaping benefits needs to improve

“This misconception is a health risk in and of itself, as it may discourage smokers from substantially reducing their harm by switching to e-cigarettes. It may also encourage some young people who use e-cigarettes to take up smoking for the first time, if they believe the harms are comparable.

“Better communication about the health risks is needed so that adults who smoke can make informed choices about the nicotine products they use.”

There are several factors which may have contributed to increased confusion about the harms of e-cigarettes relative to cigarettes over recent years. In 2019, there was an outbreak of acute lung injuries that were primarily attributable to tetrahydrocannabinol-containing products and illegitimate product purchasing; yet before the cause was identified, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) misattributed this to vaping generally and labelled the disease EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury.) Moreover, despite there being little to no evidence, there were concerns that e-cigarettes may have caused increased infection risk and disease severity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Jamie Brown, also of UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: “E-cigarettes are novel and so have attracted much attention in the media, with news articles often overstating their risks to health compared with smoking. There is relatively little reporting about deaths caused by smoking, even though 75,000 people die as a result of it in England each year.

“The Government plans to offer one million smokers a free vaping starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit. This initiative may be undermined if many smokers are unwilling to try e-cigarettes because they wrongly believe them to be just as harmful as cigarettes or more so.”

In April 2023, the UK’s Ministry of Health announced that one million smokers will be given free vape kits to further support them in quitting traditional smoking, and in 2022, the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) released a review on nicotine vaping in which it praises its benefits for public health. The review concluded that “whilst vaping is not risk-free, especially for people who have never smoked, it poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking.” They restated that vaping “is at least 95% less harmful than smoking.”

Another factor for the widespread misunderstandings may be the media coverage on youth vaping and government plans for banning disposable vapes, which is currently at large.

Key findings from an ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) report found that “in 2023, 20.5% of children tried vaping”, a 6.6% increase from 2020. “Since 2021 the proportion of current vaping has been greater than that of current smoking – 7.6% compared to 3.6% in 2023.”

The Office for National Statistics praised vaping in
regards to the “statistically significant” drop in smoking

However, what the media has failed to report is that as the prevalence of vaping in the UK has risen, the frequency of smoking has declined. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that adult smokers had dropped from 14% in 2020 to 13.3% in 2021. They commended the use of e-cigarettes in reducing these figures.

A more recent report from 2022 found that 12.9% of UK smokers aged 18 and over currently smoke, equating to approximately 6.4 million people. “The 12.9% rate is the lowest smoking rate ever recorded in the UK since rates started being recorded in 2011.” Data from 2011 found that 20.2% of adults smoked.

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