Study: Americans believe lies about vaping

Researchers find that public perceptions of vaping risk are inaccurate. Gee, how do you think that happened?


Have you noticed in the last couple years that people are more skeptical about vaping than they used to be? Do you hear more comments about e-cigarettes being “just as bad” as smoking — or even worse?

You’re not imagining things. Public opinion about vaping has shifted, and not in a good or accurate way. A new study, titled “Changing Perceptions of Harm of E-Cigarettes Among U.S. Adults, 2012–2015,” offers concrete evidence that much of the American public believes the lies and half-truths it has been fed by tobacco control ideologues and public health leaders. The open-access study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

A true vaping unicorn


The study shows that more than three times as many adult Americans in 2015 believed e-cigarettes to be as harmful as or more harmful than smoking than in 2012. The researchers also found that the number of adults who believe e-cigarettes are addictive doubled between 2012 and 2015. They note that while addiction to e-cigs is possible, research has shown their addictiveness is probably lower.

They asked these questions:

  • Is using [e-cigarettes/electronic vapor products] less harmful, about the same level of harm, or more harmful than smoking regular cigarettes? (Participants could also select I don’t know.)
  • Do you think people can become addicted to [e-cigarettes/electronic vapor products]? (Responses included yes, no, and I don’t know.)
An occasional moment of honesty from tobacco control is useful to remind us that we're not crazy.

The study was conducted by six researchers from the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) at Georgia State University, and one from the University of Oregon. The Georgia State TCORS Program Director Michael Eriksen was one of the authors. It was funded in part by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (one of the National Institutes of Health), and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

The TCORS system was created by the FDA and NIH, following the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, to serve as a foundation for ongoing tobacco control study. Some of the investigators at TCORS institutions include Jonathan Samet, Aruni Bhatnagar and Stanton Glantz. Committed anti-nicotine zealots are the rule at TCORS, not the exception.

They want us to stop using nicotine in any form; nothing less than that is acceptable.

That makes this study a real vaping unicorn: a study from the heart of the tobacco control establishment that accurately states vaping is less risky than smoking, and has lower addiction potential. To their credit, the authors even turn the tables on the old trick of calling for political action in the conclusion by demanding accurate information be disseminated by the very system they’re part of!

The results document an increase in the misperception that e-cigarettes are equally or even more harmful than combustible cigarettes. The study highlights the need to design public health messages that accurately interpret the scientific data on the potential harm of e-cigarette use and clearly differentiate the absolute from the relative harm of e-cigarettes.

This work confirms the observations of vapers and vendors that over the last few years public opinion about vaping has become more skeptical and even downright negative. People who used to look on with a bemused expression now feel confident telling us that “those things are worse than cigarettes.” But that didn’t happen naturally.

Tobacco control has infected public health


There has been a concerted smear campaign led by public officials and ideology-driven “health groups,” like the American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and spread by local and state followers. They want us to stop using nicotine in any form; nothing less than that is acceptable. Quit or die.

When every carefully crafted chunk of disinformation from people like the CDC’s Tom Frieden is repeated 500 times by local anti-smoking brigades, and then amplified by an incurious news media, how can the truth possibly find a toehold in the public discourse? The prohibitionist bent of American tobacco control has infected the whole of the public health establishment here, and the epidemic has spread to the population. Curing it will be the work of a whole generation of harm reduction advocates and honest researchers.

Higher risk perceptions of e-cigarettes could deter current smokers from using e-cigarettes as a cessation aid of smoking combustible cigarettes and preventing a potential public health benefit.

I guess we should count ourselves lucky that among the ideologues there are some honest scientists like Michael Eriksen and his staff, who at least admit that vaping isn’t as dangerous as smoking, and are willing to chide their colleagues for exaggerating the danger. An occasional moment of honesty from tobacco control is useful to remind us that we’re not crazy. And to strengthen our resolve to keep fighting. It’s not going to change quickly.

Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.