Wednesday, July 13, 2016

U.K. E-Cigarette Perceptions More Accurate than U.S.

Words, and honesty, matter in communicating public health advice. Today, survey data in the U.K. and the U.S. demonstrate the effects of truth-telling versus obfuscation regarding e-cigarettes.

I have previously noted stark differences in the characterization of e-cigarette use by health authorities in the two countries (here).  Evidence-based assessments by Public Health England (here) and the British Royal College of Physicians (here) encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, while government agencies and trusted medical organizations in the U.S. obscure the relative safety of e-cigarettes.

Reflecting the above, new surveys demonstrate that 55% of adults in the U.K. correctly believed in 2015 that e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, while only 26% of Americans held that view (see the chart). 

The British survey was conducted by Action on Smoking and Health U.K. (here).  I generated the U.S. numbers from National Cancer Institute Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) data (available here).  There were minor differences in the wording of the survey questions, but I think the results are comparable and informative.

While the U.K. results aren’t ideal, the U.S. results are deplorable and must be attributed to the misinformation campaign waged by public health authorities. 

Tobacco prohibitionists continue their pursuit of a “tobacco-free society” or “tobacco endgame”, supported by a regulatory scheme that transfers hundreds of millions of dollars annually from tobacco manufacturers through the FDA and NIH to anti-tobacco researchers and institutions (here). 

Unlike the U.K., where prestigious medical societies and experts routinely share the scientific facts about e-cigarettes, there is no balance in the U.S. to the tsunami of misinformation.  Given this, it is remarkable that even one-quarter of Americans know the truth about e-cigarettes, and that 2.5 million former smokers currently use them (here).

Smokeless tobacco products, chewers and dippers have been targets of a similar misinformation campaign for 35 years; the HINTS survey demonstrates the effect of that effort.  Asked if smokeless tobacco products were less hazardous than cigarettes, only 11% of participants correctly answered “yes,” 67% responded “no” and 22% didn’t know.  In other words, 89% of Americans have no clue that dipping and chewing are 98% safer than smoking.  Anti-tobacco propagandists are directly responsible for this dismal statistic. 

Misinformation keeps people smoking and keeps smokers dying.

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