Perceptions of the safety of vaping have worsened considerably over the past decade amongst people who smoke, a UK study has found.

The Cancer Research UK funded analysis has tracked survey responses since 2014 among more than 28,000 smokers in England.

They found there had been an overall increase in the perceived harm of e-cigarettes since 2021 which had coincided with a sharp rise in vaping among teenagers.

In June 2023, 57% of respondents said they thought vaping was equally as harmful as smoking or more harmful, while only 27% thought e-cigarettes were less harmful, they reported in JAMA Network Open.

It compares with responses in 2014 which found 44% of smokers believed e-cigarettes to be less harmful than smoking.

Data from the Smoking Toolkit Study, in which a different sample of approximately 1,700 adults in England (who are representative of the population) are interviewed each month showed the proportion who thought vaping was more harmful than cigarettes had doubled from 11% in 2014 to 23% by 2023.

The figures also showed that the perception of e-cigarettes’ harm worsened sharply in late 2019 and early 2020, coinciding with an outbreak of acute lung injuries in the United States that was wrongly linked to nicotine e-cigarettes, they reported.

It appeared that perceptions had recovered by late 2020 but then they declined again from 2021 through to 2023 amid growing concern about youth vaping.

In January the Government announced it would ban disposable vapes and restrict flavours marketed at children as part of efforts to combat youth vaping across the UK.

Last year, researchers declared that nicotine vaping is the most effective among widely available smoking cessation aids.

Study lead Dr Sarah Jackson, a researcher in the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care said there were important implications for public health.

‘The risks of vaping are much lower than the risks of smoking and this isn’t being clearly communicated to people.

‘This misperception is a health risk in and of itself, as it may discourage smokers from substantially reducing their harm by switching to e-cigarettes.

‘It may also encourage some young people who use e-cigarettes to take up smoking for the first time, if they believe the harms are comparable.’

She said better communication about the health risks would help adults who smoke to make informed choices about the nicotine products they use.

Senior author Professor Jamie Brown, professor of behavioural science said because e-cigarettes are novel they have attracted much attention in the media, with news articles often overstating their risks to health compared with smoking.

‘There is relatively little reporting about deaths caused by smoking, even though 75,000 people die as a result of it in England each year,’ he said.

‘The Government plans to offer one million smokers a free vaping starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit. This initiative may be undermined if many smokers are unwilling to try e-cigarettes because they wrongly believe them to be just as harmful as cigarettes or more so.’

This article first appeared on our sister title Pulse