Comedian-cum-philosopher Stephen Colbert has opined: “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” Actual British researchers have gone a step further, finding that, with e-cigarettes and vaping, perception changes behavior.

British health authorities have consistently told smokers the truth about vaping since 2011 (hereherehere and here), while American officials, in their pursuit of a “tobacco-free society” or a “tobacco endgame,” have emphasized the negative, or simply perpetuated untruths and urban myths.

Survey data in the United Kingdom and United States demonstrate that truth-telling results in more accurate perceptions about vaping than do obfuscation and scaremongering. Now, a survey from the United Kingdom’s Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) shows that favorable perception translates into positive behavior.

In this case, facts do matter. The U.K. vaping population has ballooned, from 700,000 in 2012 to 2.9 million this year. Importantly, the majority (52 percent) are former smokers – a sharp contrast to American data, which show that most vapers are current smokers.

Within these encouraging U.K. figures are reasons for concern. First, the prevalence of vaping is currently 5.8 percent, which is only a 12 percent increase since 2015. This suggests that e-cigarette use may be leveling out. With some 9 million current British smokers, vaping momentum will have to grow in order to drive down smoking.

A major barrier to the success of e-cigarettes is misinformation. The ASH report documents that 22 percent of smokers believe e-cigarettes are more or equally harmful than cigarettes – a 9 percent increase from four years ago. Anti-vaping propaganda, discussed here, may be a contributing factor. Interestingly, 16 percent of smokers who have tried, but don’t use, e-cigs said they would try them again if they were sure they were safe to use.

The ASH report also documents that e-cigs don’t work for all smokers. Of smokers who tried but no longer use e-cigarettes, 25 percent said the devices didn’t feel like smoking and 20 percent said they didn’t help with cravings. Smokers should be given access to a range of safer smoke-free substitutes, including smokeless tobacco and heat-not-burn products, in order to help them quit their deadly smoking habit.


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