The survey conducted by Virginia Tech found 53% of American adults believe nicotine can cause cancer, another 21% said they were unsure
There’s never been any peer-reviewed research that indicates nicotine alone raises your risk for cancer, yet a study published last week found that over half of adults in the US are under the impression that it does. In fact, nearly 75% of respondents either said they thought nicotine caused cancer, or they weren’t sure. These results were first brought to light during the 24th annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. The event held in Baltimore draws health experts from around the world to discuss their year of research. But the results of this study indicate that we’re still very far from where we need to be regarding public understanding of nicotine and vaping.
Overview Of Results
The Virginia Tech researchers observed several trends during their study other than individuals thinking nicotine causes cancer. The survey, which asked 1736 people to answer questions about their understanding of nicotine, found that most Americans (92.6%) do understand that smoking is one of the major causes of cancer. Unfortunately, it also found that almost the same amount of respondents (84.7%) believe that nicotine is at the root of addiction to smoking. While that used to be the scientific understanding of tobacco addiction, research out of Harvard University has indicated that actually it’s the tar and added chemicals which foster a strong addiction to cigarettes, not the nicotine.
There is one group of individuals who seemed to have a solid understanding of the real risks of nicotine, that is the vapers. While 52.5% of smokers believed that nicotine was carcinogenic, only 14.6% of vapers were under the same impression. This misunderstanding is made more evident when you note of the fact that only 31.6% of smokers thought vaping was any safer than smoking. Even worse is that only a pitiful 3.4% of smokers believed that vaping was “much less harmful” than tobacco. Numbers like this indicate that we still have a long way to go before a majority of the public understands how much safer vaping is than smoking. That being said, we’re still building a strong scientific case for the efficacy of e-cigarettes.
Evidence For Vaping
Public relation problems like this aren’t anything new to vaping. This isn’t even the first time that research showed a large majority of the public doesn’t understand that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking. The UK based advocacy group, Action on Smoking and Health did a poll that found only 13% of adults thought vaping was much safer, while 26% felt that e-cigarettes were just as bad, if not worse than smoking. But the peer-reviewed evidence has been growing for years now. Back in 2015, Public Health England released a now-famous report which concluded that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. We also have plenty of evidence showing that vaping is not only safer but also a valuable smoking cessation tool. A joint study published last fall by researchers at Columbia and Rutgers Universities found that not only is vaping a good smoking cessation tool, but it’s also more effective than any others currently available, even beating out prescription drugs.
The availability and clarity of research like this ought to be improving the public perception, but according to the lead author of the Virginia Tech study, Karen Gerlach, this simply hasn’t been the case. “It needs to be addressed with clear communications to the public—especially smokers—that nicotine is not what is causing smoking-related disease. Leading public health experts have called for trusted authorities to communicate clearly about nicotine to smokers. This should help them understand that there is a continuum of risk across nicotine-containing products and use that understanding to help them reduce risks to their health.”
Likely the most significant issue still preventing vaping from realizing its potential as a valuable harm reduction tool is the continued lack of awareness of the benefits. Studies like this prove that we’re not there yet. The majority of people falsely believe that nicotine is carcinogenic, which does help explain why so many smokers are still reluctant to attempt a switch to vaping. If you think that the level of risk is comparable, why even bother switching to something you may not enjoy quite as much? Alternatively, if more people knew that the substance nicotine’s health effects were most commonly compared with by doctors was caffeine, more people would likely at least attempt a switch. We simply must improve the public perception of nicotine and vaping before we can ever hope to live in a world in which smoking has been mostly eliminated.
Did you ever believe that nicotine was carcinogenic? Why do you think that so many people are under the impression that nicotine causes cancer? How can we help improve the public understanding of vaping and its benefits? Let us know in the comments.