E-cigarette awareness goes up, as (apparently) so does skepticism

May 15, 2014
This is Andy Tan, Ph.D.; Cabral Bigman, Ph.D. Credit: Annenberg School for Communication

Americans are unquestionably more aware of e-cigarettes, those vapor-emitting alternatives to tobacco cigarettes, according to a national survey. Yet, at the same time, the belief that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional smokes may be starting to diminish.

A of 3,630 adults found that 77 percent of the have heard of ; that's way up from 16 percent just five years ago. But the perception that e-cigarettes are actually less harmful than among current smokers decreased slightly, from 84 to 65 percent, indicating perhaps that skepticism and/or concerns are starting to develop. Also, while e-cigarettes have been touted as a new way to help smokers quit, this study found that simply being aware of e-cigarettes or thinking they are less harmful bore no relation to, or had no impact on, someone's intent to quit smoking.

The findings from the survey of 3,630 American adults aged 18 and older are reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in the article "E-Cigarette Awareness and Perceived Harmfulness: Prevalence and Associations with Smoking-Cessation and Outcomes." Andy S.L. Tan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication; and Cabral A. Bigman, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Illinois-Champaign, are the researchers.

The video will load shortly

Drs. Tan and Bigman analyzed data from a mail-in survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute and compared the results from their October 2012 – January 2013 survey to prior large-scale surveys on the public's awareness and perceptions about e-cigarettes. The respondents were approximately evenly split by gender; mostly white (61.6 percent), they either had some college education or a college degree (64.9 percent), or were non-smokers (58.1 percent).

In addition to the aforementioned overall levels of awareness and possible increases in skepticism about e-cigarettes, there were notable differences in awareness across certain populations. For example, the study found that e-cigarette awareness was lowest among older, non-white, and less-educated respondents. Awareness was 67.8 percent for respondents aged 65 years and older, 64.3 percent for Hispanics, and 65.0 percent among respondents with a or less.

E-cigarette use is growing in the U.S., with sales around $1.7 billion (a sizable amount considering that only six percent of smokers currently use e-cigarettes.) The New York Times recently reported there are 5,000 e-cigarette stores, colloquially referred to as vapor or "vape shops," in the country. At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed rules to regulate e-cigarettes, including the prohibition of sale to minors.

Local and state governments are struggling with the idea of regulation – should e-cigarettes be treated like tobacco products? Some argue they are "vapor-products" and therefore should be considered a new category. Regardless of the definition, some municipalities are regulating e-cigarettes the same way cigarettes are regulated. The city of Philadelphia just recently banned the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

"Given the rapidly evolving landscape in advertising and media coverage of e-cigarettes, the first objective of this study is to describe the prevalence of awareness and perceived harmfulness of e-cigarettes," Drs. Tan and Bigman write.

Drs. Tan and Bigman say that increasing prevalence of e-cigarettes in the market and presence in the media could pose a public health threat because the evidence is not yet clear on whether these products will ultimately help or hurt efforts to reduce rates of smoking. They recommend that future research monitor smokers' exposure to e-cigarette information, their beliefs about using e-cigarettes to quit smoking, and whether they successfully quit smoking over time.

Explore further: Young parents who use e-cigarettes believe devices are safer for those around them

More information: "E-Cigarette Awareness and Perceived Harmfulness Prevalence and Associations with Smoking-Cessation Outcomes," by Andy S.L. Tan, MBBS, MPH, MBA, PhD; Cabral A. Bigman, PhD, is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online ahead of Volume 47, Issue 2 (August 2014), DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.02.011

Related Stories

Young parents who use e-cigarettes believe devices are safer for those around them

May 4, 2014
Many young parents are using electronic cigarettes, and despite any evidence for safety, the vast majority of young adults who have used the devices believe they are less harmful than regular cigarettes, according to research ...

Persons with mental health conditions found more likely to use e-cigarettes

May 13, 2014
Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that people living with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions are twice as likely to have tried e-cigarettes and three times as ...

E-cigarette use not linked to quitting smoking, study finds

March 24, 2014
People who use electronic cigarettes do not report higher rates of quitting than regular cigarette smokers, according to a US study out Monday.

More than two million now regularly using electronic cigarettes in Britain

April 29, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—The number of adults in Britain who use electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has tripled over the past two years, from an estimated 700,000 users in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2014, according to survey data ...

New York City imposes strict e-cigarette ban

April 29, 2014
A ban on electronic cigarettes went into effect Tuesday in New York restaurants, bars, parks, beaches and other public places.

E-cigarettes: Gateway to nicotine addiction for US teens, says study

March 6, 2014
E-cigarettes, promoted as a way to quit regular cigarettes, may actually be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teenagers, according to a new UC San Francisco study.

Recommended for you

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VocalEK
not rated yet May 16, 2014
It is very sad that "public health" folks have managed to convince a hefty percentage of smokers to continue lighting up. All they had to do was ignore the published research showing that people who had just about given up all hope of ever being able to quit were finally able to do so when they switched to e-cigarettes. These studies pointed out that those who switched completely were enjoying the same health improvements as any former smoker who used an "approved" method of quitting. In fact, even those who only partially switched (i.e., became one of the dreaded "dual users") were experiencing health improvements such as reduced asthma symptoms.

But of course those studies are not yet conclusive. It will be at least 10 years before proof becomes incontrovertible. Does anyone really believe that, in the meantime, it will be safer for smokers to continue to inhale tar, CO, solid particulates, and the multitude of chemicals of combustion along with their nicotine? Really?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.