Recent survey data suggest a rise in the proportion of Americans who believe e-cigarettes are as or more dangerous than combustible cigarettes. Two separate surveys conducted show similar results in the US perception of e-cigarettes and nicotine in general. The perception among those surveyed is largely negative.
Let’s Go to the Polls
The US Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) released findings from study data collected between 2013 and 2015, EurekAlert reports. PATH conducted a longitudinal study of tobacco users across the US, and found an increase in negative perceptions of vaping. From 2013-2015, adult smokers who believe vaping is as or more harmful than cigarettes rose 14%.
Further data PATH collected from smokers and non-smokers alike suggest the larger population believe e-cigarettes to be dangerous as well, rising 11% between years surveyed. EurekAlert also reports, according to a 2017 survey by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, consumers across the US believe daily nicotine use is more harmful than daily drinking. The 2017 survey also disclosed that consumers believe “nicotine itself, rather than smoking, was a cause of lung cancer, throat cancer, and heart disease.” Another study by Elizabeth A. Mumford, et al., released also in 2017, corroborated this belief.
A Pulse Opinion Research survey, conducted on behalf of Rasmussen, reports similar findings in August of this year. Rasmussen conducted 1,000 telephone and online surveys and found that only 20% of those surveyed believe vaping to be less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. Their data claims 50% of those surveyed believed e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes to be of equal risk. Rasmussen conducted polling mid-August, 2018.
The Dangers of Misconception
“[S]mokers who may benefit from switching to e-cigarettes are not getting the message,” Dr. Grant O’Connell, who led the PATH data analysis, told press. That message, according to a growing number of investigative and longitudinal research studies, is that e-cigarettes are considerably less harmful than their organic counterparts. “These misperceptions need to be urgently addressed and policy makers should aim to assess why the relative harm of e-cigarettes compared with smoking is misunderstood,” O’Connell said.
Peer-reviewed journal, Tobacco Control, for example, released a research paper in late 2017 which details the number of life years saved from switching to e-cigarettes. “[R]eplacement of cigarette by e-cigarette use over a 10-year period yields 6.6 million fewer premature deaths with 86.7 million fewer life years lost in the Optimistic Scenario,” researchers report. “Under the Pessimistic Scenario, 1.6 million premature deaths are averted with 20.8 million fewer life years lost.” Either scenario saves over a million lives and gives smokers valuable years back that they cut drastically short inhaling the laundry list of known carcinogens found in tobacco cigarettes.
Setting the Record Straight
Much of the worry perpetuated by the scientific community about the dangers of vapes comes from a specific piece of misinformation. In 2015, Dr. Konstantinos E. Farsalinos and a research team published an article in the journal, Addiction, about levels of aldehydes produced by e-cigarettes. To that point, Farsalinos, et al. argue that other researchers were unaware of the proper use of atomizers and cotton wicks, and reported findings in bad faith.
Farsalinos’ team determined that the levels of harmful aldehyde chemicals reported in others’ prior studies exist only in ‘dry puff’ conditions. Dry puffing is when the wick begins to burn, causing a terrible taste and destroying the coil. Vapers know, generally, to avoid having this happen, at least because it tastes awful. Farsalinos and his research team concluded that aldehyde levels are minimal and a non-issue under normal vaping circumstances.
An independent investigation by Public Health England (PHE), published in 2015, also determined the relative safety of e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes. The oft-cited statistic that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking came originally from the PHE study. At the time, PHE addressed a similar trend among the UK as found in US surveys: Nearly half the population believe vapes are as harmful as cigarettes.
What’s To Come
This year, Britain’s Parliament heard from an advisory panel to determine if they should roll back some of their vaping ban stipulations. Conversely, in the US, the FDA is cracking down considerably on vape companies in the wake of what they see as an ‘epidemic’ in teen use. The agency has also remained silent on why they have not approved any of the hundreds of applications for smoking alternatives looking to hit market. If the FDA continues to vilify vaping, instead of working with companies to produce good public education, the fate of the industry looks worrisome, to say the least.