There has been a lot of discussion in all kinds of places relating to e-cig use. Various celebrities vape, and are seemingly criticized in online media particularly in the article comments. We found out recently that Nick Clegg quit smoking by vaping. You would think that with such large A-list names such as Simon Cowell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry, Johnny Depp, and so on would help to inspire a whole new generation of current smokers to at least consider switching even if they don’t actually switch.
For a while, that assumption could actually hold true. According to ASH, in 2104 35% of British adults believed that electronic cigarettes are good for public health. To be fair, that is a seemingly low percentage but then the summary is based on n=1710 participants in 2014. The use of e-cigarettes by the estimated 2.1 million users rose dramatically since 2010. This is all good news so far. General awareness of e-cig devices identified that a vast majority of current smokers, and former smokers had heard of electronic cigarettes (95% and 90% respectively).
The Office of National Statistics (ONS), also support the former smoker to e-cig rule with negligible take up by those who have never smoked previously.
Peter Hajek published in BMC Medicine that electronic cigarettes have a huge potential for Public Health.
What has changed?
Between the time of those surveys and studies, there has been a heck of a lot of negative press surrounding electronic cigarettes. The vast majority of those stories have been thoroughly debunked by the community at large, and by prominent scientists, researchers and Tobacco Control experts. Despite the stories blatantly lying (Formaldehyde anyone?), restrictions on what vendors can advertise (no health or cessation claims allowed), the overall confidence perception of the general public has significantly waned.
In Spain, 736 adults were studied to “Describe the knowledge and perception of harmfulness of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in the city of Barcelona 2013-2014”. Not exactly a huge sample size to gauge truly meaningful statistical results, but I’m not a researcher nor a statistician. Of those 736 participants, 79.2% were aware of e-cigs. 581 people knew what an e-cig was. Being a bit optimistic, that’s not a particularly bad result.
This does raise the question of “knowledge of electronic cigarettes” in my mind. To what extent do the general public need to know? From an outside perspective, I would have thought some basic information on how they work, along with information about the level of harm reduction they can be used for. From a research perspective, it probably isn’t such a bad idea that they are aware of how they operate, wicking materials, coils, Ohms Law. The kind of knowledge that we as vapers have, but to a lesser extent perhaps.
The study goes on to try and identify where these participants heard about e-cigs. Weirdly enough, most of them heard about e-cigs via “traditional media” which of course includes TV, radio, local and national newspapers. Given that a large majority of people in this day and age are connected in someway to the Internet, I half expected a lower percentage from traditional sources. The internet only score a lowly 13% for e-cig knowledge compared to 57% for traditional media.
Unfortunately, the really worrying statistic isn’t where these participants heard about e-cigs at all. It’s their overall perception of them. Over half of them (extrapolating here) could be considered to believe that e-cigarettes are either as harmful or more harmful than traditional cigarettes. Less than half (47.2%) believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful. That statistic could very well be directly attributed to negative media articles.
We know (thanks to Gregory Conley and the AVA), that US perception has also significantly waned from over 80% in 2010 down to %60 in 2014 in terms of the perception of harm, and it is falling. So it isn’t isolated to one region, it is global. The constant negative battering that vaping is taking from the media and certain entities within Tobacco Control and Public Health is the primary source of this downslide.
Where do we lay the “blame” for this perception shift? Personally, I suspect that we can lay this blame directly at the feet of Tobacco Control as they are the ones that are perpetuating
ludicrous theories blatant lies into the mainstream media. As those stories get propagated around the media (both on and offline), it also seeps downwards into the minds of everyday people and businesses, including local GPs and Pharmacies.
It is a worrying downward trend that the community and the advocates somehow need to reverse. We need to get loud and show that these stories and perceptions can and will be changed.