Many adults who smoke traditional cigarettes have found e-cigarettes to be effective at helping them quit, even though e-cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA for tobacco cessation. Scientists generally agree that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease and many forms of cancer. But what does the average adult think about the relative harm of these two nicotine delivery systems?
Two ongoing national surveys of US adults from 2012 to 2017 found the percentage of adults who believe e-cigarettes to be less harmful than cigarettes decreased. As shown above, data from nearly 2,700 responses to the Health Information National Trends Survey suggests two-thirds of Americans incorrectly think e-cigarettes are at least as harmful as cigarettes (represented by the brown and orange lines). Of the 5,300 respondents to the other survey, more than 40% held the same incorrect perception.
There is a real danger in these misperceptions, says Michael Siegel, a professor and tobacco control researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health. If adult smokers view e-cigarettes as more harmful than traditional cigarettes, they may ignore a far less lethal alternative.
“This research suggests that the widespread hysteria about the health effects of vaping, which has been caused by exaggerated reporting by anti-tobacco and health organizations, is going to have severe negative implications for public health,” says Siegel.
Cigarette smokers looking to quit tobacco products can gain health benefits from switching to e-cigarettes. The increase in e-cigarette use among adolescents and young adults, driven by aggressive advertising of these products, raises other concerns.
Databyte via Hajek, Peter, et al., A Randomized Trial of E-Cigarettes versus Nicotine-Replacement Therapy. New England Journal of Medicine.