…Misinformation is killing people. For example, U.S. cigarette users who believe nicotine is harmful to health are less likely to try nicotine-replacement therapies (NRTs) or e-cigarettes to help them quit and (no surprise) are less likely to quit successfully.

“If someone believes that using reduced-risk products is just as bad as smoking, why bother switching?” says Jeffrey S. Smith, a senior fellow in harm reduction at R Street Institute in Washington, D.C…

Smith, a brain researcher with deep experience in both academia and industry, shares these concerns. “I could understand this error if it was coming from nonscientists,” he says. “But it is in the messaging from academics, policymakers and national health organizations.”

He is frustrated by the way the link between smoking and nicotine is used to tar all reduced-risk products. “If cigarettes contain nicotine, then any nicotine-containing product must be equally bad,” is how he sums up that mistaken theme.

As a neuroscientist, Smith sees an additional overlooked benefit from correcting misperceptions of nicotine. “The potential of nicotine to improve health in nonsmokers has really lagged behind due to its association to smoking,” he says. If nicotine could be destigmatized, research may lead to treatments for traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory loss…

Smith also advocates one-to-one education. “I think the medical and public health community could be the source of credible information, but on the local level, not large and expensive national campaigns,” he says. “I feel that there is mistrust everywhere. And without personal connection, it will be hard to drive change.”

Smith would like to see this consistent message coming from all sources: “Combustion is the problem, not nicotine. Stop smoking—through any means, quit or switch—and your health will improve.”

Finally, he calls for more communication among researchers. “I would argue today that regardless of source—academic, regulatory or industry—the only way to solve the health problems that exist around smoking is to listen, argue, discuss, agree and disagree as a single scientific community,” says Smith. “Science is what will drive change.”