Perceptions of the relative harm of electronic cigarettes compared with smoking in the U.S.A.: analysis of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study data, 2013-2016
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been characterised as significantly less harmful than smoked tobacco by an increasing number of public health authorities. Despite this, U.S. adults remain poorly informed about the relative risk of these products.
To quantify this, an analysis of the U.S. Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study was conducted. Available data from wave 1 (September 2013 to December 2014) and wave 2 (October 2014 to October 2015) of the study was analysed and presented at the Global Forum on Nicotine 2018. Here we update our findings following an analysis of the recently released data from wave 3 (October 2015 to October 2016).
This nationally representative survey of the U.S. adult population showed that over half believed e-cigarettes to be as harmful as or more harmful than conventional cigarettes. This tendancy has increased further over time (54 % in wave 1, increasing to 65 % in wave 2, increasing to 73 % in wave 3). Among current adult U.S. smokers, 43 % believed e-cigarettes to be as harmful as or more harmful than smoking in wave 1, increasing to 57 % in wave 2 and further increasing to 68 % in wave 3.
Misperceptions of the relative harm of e-cigarettes compared with conventional cigarettes is worsening in the U.S. and are particularly strong in adult smokers. It is likely that adult smokers may not even try an e-cigarette due to inaccurate beliefs about their relative harmfulness. Correcting these misperceptions may help more U.S. adult smokers to switch to less harmful nicotine e-cigarette products.