Researchers warn: smokers think e-cigarettes are more dangerous than cigarettes

Over half of all smokers in England believe that vejping via e-cigarettes is as dangerous or even more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. This is in spite of the fact that the authorities continuously provide information to the contrary. This is according to a study by University College London.

"The risks of taking vejpa are minimal compared to smoking. But the information reaching smokers is often inaccurate or exaggerates the risks for various reasons. This can have serious consequences, particularly for those smokers who can use e-cigarettes to help them quit," said Sarah Jackson, who led the study at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London.

The study is based on information from the UK's Smoking Toolkit Study, where researchers collect annual data on smoking and smoking cessation in the country. It also asks smokers about their views on e-cigarettes and other smoking cessation tools.

Contrary message from authorities

In 2023, 28,393 smokers took part in the survey, of which 1700 were followed up weekly by the researchers during the year. The results revealed gross misconceptions about the safety of e-cigarettes. As many as 57 per cent believed that e-cigarettes are either as harmful or more harmful than cigarettes. On the contrary, according to UK public health authorities, the evidence suggests that e-cigarette use poses a fraction of the risks compared to smoking.

"There is an urgent need to address misconceptions about vejpning to ensure that people can make informed decisions about the nicotine products they use." Sarah Jackson told the magazine The Independent.

Affects both young and old smokers

One possible explanation for these misconceptions could be a steady stream of articles in the media, mainly linked to youth use, but also pure sensationalismsays Sarah Jackson. She now worries that the consequences could be that smokers are less likely to switch to vejping and so-called dual users (those who both smoke and vejp) continue to smoke for longer. 

"For young vejpers who have never smoked regularly before, these misconceptions may result in them being less concerned about any increased risks associated with a possible transition to cigarette smoking." she says.

Misconceptions about the state of research

E-cigarettes have been on the market for over 20 years. A common perception among both researchers and the public is that the products have not been around long enough to know their long-term effects. But even this suggests a series of misconceptions about the state of research, says Ms Jackson.

"I think a lot of people are concerned that we didn't know that cigarettes were as harmful as they are until long after they established themselves on the market," Sarah Jackson told the Independent. "People unfortunately think that the same might be true of e-cigarettes because it's a relatively new product, but I also think a lot of people don't realise is how far the science has progressed since then."

Better research than for cigarettes

She compares it to the research on cigarette smoking, where it took a long time for researchers to recognise the link between a range of deadly diseases and regular smoking.

"If cigarettes were invented today, we'd know immediately that they are incredibly harmful - we don't need decades of data to know when something is as harmful as cigarettes. If e-cigarettes were as harmful, we would already know it by now," she told the Indipendent. "Unfortunately, I think this is one of the main reasons why people are suspicious of e-cigarettes. They don't think the evidence is developed enough to know for sure that they are safer."

Health authorities recommend e-cigarettes

Since 2015, the UK public health authorities have commissioned a review and synthesis of evidence on the risks of e-cigarettes and vejpning. At the same time, the independent organisation Cochrane Reviews, so far commissioned by the British Cancer Society, has compiled data on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation. The message is that vejpning is overall in measures of magnitudes" less harmful than smoking, and that e-cigarettes are a safe and effective tool for smoking cessation.

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