A new study published recently in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that in the UK between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of smokers who believed smoking to be more hazardous than vaping actually declined significantly, and this resulted in fewer smokers switching to e-cigarettes, thus resulting in more smoking.
(See: Brose LS, et al. Perceived relative harm of electronic cigarettes over time and impact on subsequent use. A survey with 1-year and 2-year follow-ups. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2015; 157:106-111.)
The study involved a cohort of past-year smokers followed for 2 years, with 1-year and 2-year follow-ups. Perception of the relative harms of electronic cigarettes vs. tobacco cigarettes was measured at all three waves, along with e-cigarette use and smoking status.
The main findings were as follows: "Perceived relative harm changed; the proportion perceiving e-cigarettes to be less harmful than cigarettes decreased from 2013 to 2014. ... Perceiving e-cigarettes to be less harmful
than cigarettes predicted subsequent use, adjusting for other characteristics (OR = 1.39; 95% CI: 1.08–1.80, p = 0.011)."
The most important conclusion of the study was as follows: "The present findings suggest that misperceptions of relative harm may
impede switching. If e-cigarette use was avoided in favour of stopping
nicotine use entirely, smokers’ health would benefit, however, the risk
is that smokers continue smoking instead. One recent US survey for
example found that a substantial proportion of respondents who had tried
an e-cigarette reported that health concerns had led them to stop
e-cigarette use; all continued smoking instead (Biener and Hargraves, 2015)."
The Rest of the Story
In light of the postings on this blog during the past few years, this study demonstrates two very important points.
First, the misinformation campaign being disseminated by electronic cigarette opponents is working. They are successfully undermining the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking.
Second, this campaign is causing public health damage and promoting smoking, as public confusion about the relative safety of vaping vs. smoking has led to higher rates of smoking than would otherwise have occurred. The undermining of the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking is deterring smokers from quitting using e-cigarettes and causing some ex-smokers to return to smoking.
The rest of the story, then, is that through their campaign of misinformation about the relative hazards of electronic cigarettes compared to real ones, e-cigarette opponents have undermined the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking, resulting in more smoking than would have occurred if they had simply told the public the truth.