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Majority of smokers think vaping is more harmful than cigarettes

‘There are millions of smokers who now believe vaping is more than or equally harmful as smoking, when the reverse is true,’ a charity boss warns (PA Wire)
‘There are millions of smokers who now believe vaping is more than or equally harmful as smoking, when the reverse is true,’ a charity boss warns (PA Wire)

More than half of smokers in England wrongly believe that vaping is more or as harmful as smoking, according to a major study.

Researchers at University College London surveyed 28,393 smokers in England between 2014 and 2023.

They found that public perceptions of vapes had worsened considerably over the past decade, with an increase in the perceived harm of e-cigarettes since 2021.

The UCL team used data from the Smoking Toolkit Study, in which around 1,700 adults in England were interviewed each month.

In 2014, public perceptions of vapes were more favourable, with 44 per cent of smokers regarding them as less harmful than cigarettes, and only 11 per cent saying e-cigarettes were more harmful.

Though perceptions had recovered by late 2020, they declined again from 2021 through to 2023 amid growing concern about youth vaping, as large numbers of young people starting to use disposable e-cigarettes.

A total of 57 per cent of respondents said they thought that vaping was equally as harmful as smoking in June 2023, while just 27 per cent believed vapes were less harmful.

People aged under 35 were most likely to believe that vapes were more harmful than cigarettes, despite this age group being the biggest users of vapes.

The NHS says that vaping is less harmful than smoking, though it does carry a health risk.

A ban on disposable vapes will come into effect at the end of 2024 to curb a rise in young people vaping. Ministers are also concerned that teenagers are being targeted by vape companies with colourful packaging and fruity flavours.

The Government also plans to offer one million smokers a free vaping starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit.

The study's lead author Dr Sarah Jackson, of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare, 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."

The study comes amid reports that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will introduce a new tax on the liquid in vapes in his Budget next week, with higher levels for products with more nicotine.

Senior author Professor Jamie Brown, of UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, 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.”

He added that the Government’s plan to offer vapes to smokers to help them quit would be “undermined if many smokers are unwilling to try e-cigarettes because they wrongly believe them to be just as harmful as cigarettes or more so.”

Commenting on the study, Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the charity ASH, said: “There are millions of smokers who now believe vaping is more than or equally harmful as smoking, when the reverse is true, and e-cigarettes are the most effective and easily available quitting aid.

“The tragedy is that as a result many millions of smokers may not try vaping and carry on smoking instead, continuing to put themselves at serious risk of cancers, respiratory and heart disease, followed by premature death.”