New data reported by Clive Bates and presented in Joe Nocera's New York Times column about electronic cigarettes reveal that there has been a major change in the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking in the past three years:
According to these sources, in 2010, 80% of the public believed that smoking was more hazardous than using non-tobacco-containing, non-combustible electronic cigarettes.
However, in 2013, only 60% of the public believed that smoking was more hazardous than using non-tobacco-containing, non-combustible electronic cigarettes.
This is bad news for public health, as it indicates that within three years, the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking has been undermined. Twenty percent of the public has been convinced that smoking is no more hazardous than inhaling aerosol from a device which involves no combustion and contains no tobacco.
The Rest of the Story
Who is responsible for this undermining of the public's appreciation of the health hazards of smoking?
Historically, it was the tobacco industry which used public relations activities to undermine the public's appreciation of smoking's health hazards.
Sadly, it was not the tobacco industry which is responsible for today's bad news. Instead, I believe that it is clearly the result of a strong propaganda campaign by the anti-smoking groups.
For the past three years, the mainstream anti-smoking groups, as well as federal agencies including the FDA and the CDC, have been disseminating the message that electronic cigarette use is harmful and they have largely hidden from the public the fact that vaping is much safer than smoking. In addition, a number of anti-smoking groups and advocates have actually been spreading misinformation about the health hazards of vaping and the relative hazards of smoking compared to vaping.
As a result of these information campaigns, it is now clear that the public's appreciation of the health hazards of smoking has been undermined, as there has been a substantial decline in the proportion of the public which correctly believes that smoking is more hazardous than vaping.
This is not just a friendly debate about the potential role of electronic cigarettes as a tobacco control strategy. This is now a situation where the mainstream anti-smoking groups are actually doing tangible and demonstrable public health harm by completely distorting the relative risks of smoking compared to vaping and as a result, undermining the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking.
Disclosure: I have not received any funding or compensation from
the tobacco, electronic cigarette, or pharmaceutical industries.
However, I am seeking funding from several electronic cigarette
companies to conduct a behavioral study on the effects of electronic
cigarettes on smoking behavior.