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Study Finds That Vaping Misperceptions Could Stop Smokers Quitting
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Study Finds Vaping Misperceptions Could Stop Smokers Quitting

Vaping has repeatedly been shown to be both less harmful than smoking and a useful tool for helping smokers ditch their tobacco habit, but it appears that those messages are increasingly getting lost amongst the more negative news reports. 

A study published by the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network suggests that misperceptions about the potential harms of vaping compared to smoking are growing, and researchers have warned that this could be preventing smokers from trying to quit. 

About the Vaping Harm Perception Study

The long-term study surveyed over 1700 people a month between 2014 and 2023 and then focused on the 28,393 respondents who were smokers. The survey targeted men and women and included subjects in every age group. Each participant was asked if they thought e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, equally harmful, more harmful, or did not know. 

In 2014, 44.4% of respondents who were smokers thought e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, 30.3% thought e-cigarettes were equally harmful, 10.8% thought they were more harmful, and 14.5% did not know. But by 2023, the proportion who thought e-cigarettes were less harmful had decreased by 40%, and the proportion who thought e-cigarettes were more harmful had more than doubled.

The increase in negative perceptions was not a straight-line increase over time. There were significant spikes in the negative responses, roughly coinciding with the 2019 rise in news stories about cases of lung disease linked to vaping in the United States when the CDC was posting daily updates on emerging cases (quickly labeled as EVALI or E-cigarette or Vaping Product, Use Associated Lung Injury, but which was ultimately linked to a contaminant in a batch of illegal vapes) and a rise in reports of youth vaping in the United Kingdom in 2021.

By 2023, only 19% of smokers who did not vape said they thought vaping was less harmful than smoking.

The conclusion of the study was that harm perceptions of e-cigarettes have worsened substantially over the last decade, such that the vast majority of adults who smoke and do not vape in England do not believe e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes.

Vaping Vs. Smoking Harm in the Media 

The results of the study aren’t difficult to believe. You only have to do a quick Google News search for “Vaping” to see page after page of stories about disposable bans, stores getting fined for selling illegal vapes, and teens addicted to their Elf Bar or Esco Bar habit. You have to dig much deeper to find stories that back up the harm-reduction or smoking cessation potential of vaping. 

In its online guidance on vaping versus smoking, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) states that cigarettes release thousands of different chemicals when they burn. Many are poisonous, and up to 70 cause cancer. They also cause other serious illnesses, including lung disease, heart disease, and stroke. Most of the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, including tar and carbon monoxide, are not contained in vape aerosol. 

Yet information like this is difficult to find among the scaremongering anti-vaping stories that probably sell more newspapers and garner more website views. 

Lead author of this latest study, Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & 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. This misperception 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.”

These views were backed up by another of the study’s senior authors, Professor Jamie Brown (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), who 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.”

Although not stated in the study, actions such as the U.K. government’s planned ban on disposable vapes, and the almost complete lack of vaping products being authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are very likely to worsen these misperceptions among the general public. 

Russ Ware Author Picture 2

Russ Ware

Russ is a UK-based Staff Writer for Versed Vaper who has been in journalism for more than two decades, having previously written for tech publications like Lifewire. He tried vaping in 2015 but the setup that he was using wasn’t quite right and so he didn’t enjoy it at first. However, after going back and forth between vaping and smoking for a couple of years, he started experimenting with different coils, power levels, and mixing his own vape juice. The rest is history and Russ has been a devoted vaper ever since. Russ is a passionate writer and he produces reviews, news, and well-researched informational articles for our site. When Russ is not testing or writing about vapes, he likes to travel, read true crime, and eat anything with lots of chilies.

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