Data from the Health Information National Trends Survey showed that 49% of US adults think that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as regular cigarettes. The survey also revealed that 35% of people did not know that different cigarettes are equal in risk.
What’s even more alarming is that current smokers are more inclined to believe that some cigarettes are safer than others. This lack of knowledge about the different tobacco products can be a serious health problem.
Marc Kiviniemi, associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, and co-author Lynn Kozlowski, a professor of community health and health behavior at UB, write, “Even for e-cigarettes, half of the public incorrectly believed them to be just as dangerous as cigarettes and an overwhelming majority of respondents incorrectly believed smokeless tobacco to be just as dangerous as traditional cigarettes.”
While current studies do not state that e-cigarettes are safe, they are potentially safer than cigarettes.
“The best evidence we have is that they are not as risky as traditional cigarettes. When people are making decisions, that difference in risk is important. There seems to be this perception that all tobacco is equally bad and that doesn’t fit the expert understanding of reality,” Kiviniemi adds.
Kozlowski says, “A mistaken belief can change your behavior in ways that will shorten your life.” He adds, “The public has the right to know about the differential risks of these products.”
Because of this misperception, many smokers who have a hard time quitting fail because they do not know that there are healthier alternatives to smoking.
“There’s an analogy here. If you think about the difference between crossing the street in the middle of the block at rush hour versus crossing at a crosswalk with the stop signs, you could say these are both not safe because in some sense there’s a chance that you can get hit by a car. But there are very real differences in the amount of risk,” Kiviniemi adds.
Moreover, since many adults also think that some cigarettes are safer than others, the tendency is to reach for a “milder” cigarette. “Taste differences exist between these products and there’s good reason to believe that if you’re smoking something that feels milder, or is easier on your chest, it’s easier to think you’re better off using that one over another,” says Kozlowski.
“It’s easy to say ‘This is safe, this isn’t safe,’ but the reality is more nuanced,” adds Kiviniemi. “If you really are considering switching from traditional cigarettes to another product, or if you’re a non-smoker and you’re thinking about starting it because you think they’re safe, then you really owe it to yourself to dig a little deeper and get the more nuanced knowledge.”