The share of people who believe e-cigarettes are equally harmful or more harmful than traditional cigarettes depends on how the question is asked, according to new research published in Tobacco Control.
Tobacco companies often claim that a large proportion of the population perceives potential modified risk tobacco products as equally or more harmful than cigarettes, and argue misperceptions need to be corrected using modified risk claims.
However, the studies they cite predominantly use one specific measurement of comparative risk, according to the researchers.
The authors studied the way questions were posed in the 2017 Tobacco Products and Risk Perceptions Survey. When asked directly to compare harms of e-cigarettes and cigarettes, 33.9 percent of participants identified e-cigarettes as less harmful than cigarettes, 36.4 percent reported equal harm, 4.3 percent said e-cigarettes were more harmful and 25.3 percent said, “I don’t know.”
When asked indirectly, however, 42.1 percent identified e-cigarettes as less harmful than cigarettes, 23.8 percent said they were of equal harm, 7.1 percent perceived e-cigarettes to be more harmful and 27.1 percent did not know.
The authors say researchers should use both direct and indirect risk questions when assessing the public’s perceptions of harms associated with novel tobacco products.