Is the Public Awareness of Vaping Changing?

Thomas Lowe
Is the Public Awareness of Vaping Changing?

There’s no denying that vaping is more popular than ever in the UK. From the rise of eCommerce stores to the hundreds of mods available on the market, vaping has become incredibly accessible, and it regularly draws the attention of researchers, policy-makers, and healthcare experts. 

With more than 3 million people already vaping in the UK and e-cigarettes being included in hospitals, vaping has stopped being just a trend. Even Phillip Morris, the largest tobacco company in the world, saw so much potential in it that they announced they were going to shift their focus to vaping instead.

Amidst all of these developments, vaping has sparked a lot of debates, and the public has varying opinions about it. Although study after study has proven that vaping is significantly healthier than smoking and can even help smokers quit, many people remain unaware of this. These differences in public awareness is still very much present in the UK, as well as other countries where vaping has become more common.

When vaping was introduced to the UK more than a decade ago, it was mostly viewed with suspicion and assumed to be another form of smoking. Given the sheer number of vapers around now and the continuous rise of the industry, it’s worth checking in if public opinion has changed.

A gradual shift in attitude

The overall attitude of Brits towards vaping is still divided: some see it as a public health solution, some want it banned, and others aren’t sure what to think. Both smokers and non-smokers are prone to exaggerating the dangers of vaping, even though the scientific evidence states otherwise. On the other hand, with the help of strong backing by the government and top public health organisations, people are becoming more informed about it, and public opinion is already shifting.

Aside from the rapid increase in people taking up vaping over the past few years, a study by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) reveals that smokers are gradually changing their opinions on vaping. In 2017, 22% saw it as less harmful than cigarettes, while in 2018 that number went up to 27%. 

Leading research and analytics company YouGov also conducted a large, nationwide poll in January 2018. They surveyed more than 2,000 adults all over the UK, and 43% knew that vaping is healthier than smoking. Interestingly, men were more likely to be pro-vaping than women. Those who were active on social media also had a more positive opinion on vaping, probably because they’re exposed to more information about it through their feeds.

Vaping for public health

People’s perceptions of vaping are changing because of research, educational campaigns, and regulatory changes that were several years in the making. 

A monumental event in UK vaping history was when Public Health England (PHE) released its independent vaping report in 2015. This examined the health effects of vaping and concluded that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than standard cigarettes. 

For the first time in the UK, a major public body (and an executive agency of the Department of Health) had acknowledged in unequivocal terms that vaping was not only a legitimate tool for helping smokers quit, but it was significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco. This garnered the support of several government bodies and led to new regulations that paved the way for integrating e-cigarettes into the healthcare system. 

Numerous reports about how vaping is safer than smoking followed after. Aside from the PHE, the Royal College of Physicians, Cancer Research UK, and British Psychology Society are just some of the prominent organisations that have conducted their own research, all with similar findings to the 2015 PHE report. 

As expected, smoking has markedly decreased alongside the rise of vaping. In fact, half of vapers have already quit smoking, amounting to at least 1.5 million people. Vaping works as well. Clinical trials have shown that ex smokers are twice as likely to quit with the help of vaping compared to those using patches or gum. 

In light of these results, The National Health Service (NHS) is encouraging smokers to take up vaping in order to quit. Campaigns such as Stoptober, where smokers stop smoking for 28 days, are great for spreading information, and the UK has even designated April as Vaping Awareness Month.

Common misconceptions

On the other hand, misconceptions still abound among the public when it comes to vaping. This is partly the influence of the tobacco lobby and a media that sensationalises and delivers contradicting information about vaping. Ultimately, people would be well-advised to check the large body of research out there to figure out what’s really going on and not rely on tabloid newspapers. 

Here are some misconceptions that many people still believe, whether smoker or not:

Vaping is worse than smoking

This is probably the most worrying assumption since it prevents smokers from considering vaping. According to a survey for ASH, around a third of smokers have never tried vaping. This is backed by another survey by Yorkshire Cancer Research, where a quarter of smokers said they would never turn to vaping because they think it’s harmful. Research has repeatedly stated that vaping is much safer than smoking, but still in 2019 not all smokers know or even believe this.

Vaping is bad because of nicotine 

There is a continuing misperception about the dangers and addictiveness of nicotine. Whilst vapers do consumer nicotine, this isn’t the harmful component in cigarette smoke—rather, it’s the 5000 different chemicals that are inhaled in tobacco smoke. In fact, nicotine replacement therapies are based on the premise that nicotine can be used to help smokers quit, and the NHS describes the nicotine in e-cigarettes as “relatively harmless.” 

In the analysis of the ASH survey, it’s pointed out that those who think nicotine is the worst component in cigarette smoke are less likely to vape. Almost nine out of ten smokers and ex-smokers in the survey believed this.

Vaping will eventually lead people to smoking

In a 2019 Mintel survey, half of those surveyed also believed that vaping entices people to smoke. In reality, most vapers are former or current smokers, and only 1% of non-smokers are attracted to vaping. A lot of smokers also turn to vaping because they want to quit smoking, not do it more.

To quit smoking, the most effective way is to go cold turkey

Yorkshire Cancer Research’s study further revealed that nearly half of the smokers surveyed think that going cold turkey is the best method. This actually isn’t very effective. Smoking is addictive, especially if it’s already a deeply ingrained habit, and people are bound to have relapses. Instead, people are four times more likely to quit for good if they get a support from a stop smoking service. Vaping combined with in-person support also works better than conventional nicotine replacement therapies.

Verdict

Currently, nearly half of people in the UK already know that vaping is healthier than smoking. This is huge progress, given that the public originally regarded vaping with wariness and assumed that it’s only a different form of smoking, with the same harmful effects. 

As vaping grows into its role as a public health tool that can help smokers quit, people are likely to become more accepting it. In particular, emphasis should be placed on making smokers more aware, since they stand to benefit the most from vaping. 

Although it’s already certain that vaping is safer than smoking, more studies are definitely needed, and this should be made more accessible to the public. One direction that researchers are looking into is whether changing what smokers think about nicotine, smoking, and vaping will also change their behaviour. After all, vaping is a powerful tool in the fight against smoking, and switching to e-cigarettes might be what it takes to save a smoker’s life.

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