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expert reaction to latest results from ASH annual survey on vaping in Great Britain

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) have published the latest results of their annual survey on vaping in Great Britain.


Dr Leonie Brose, Reader in Addiction Education and Nicotine Research, King’s College London (KCL), said:

“Having been conducted annually for many years, the ASH surveys provide detailed evidence over time and are a hugely valuable resource for tobacco control efforts.  

“In GB, about 8 million people smoke cigarettes, a product that kills at least half of its long-term users if used as intended. The harm from smoking also disproportionately affects people who have other disadvantages such as poor mental health. We know that vaping is much less harmful, however, about 40% of people who smoke now think that there is no difference in harm. This is concerning as it will make them less likely to try what we know is an effective way of stopping smoking.”


Prof Peter Hajek, Professor of Clinical Psychology, and Director, Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health, Queen Mary University of London, said:

“The level of misinformation about health risks of vaping is alarming.

“E-cigarettes are a major breakthrough in public health. They are helping smokers quit on an unprecedented scale and help substantially with eliminating smoking-related cancer, heart disease and lung disease. 

“The progress would be faster though if media did not consistently promote misinformed stories that put smokers off moving over to vaping. A correction to this trend is urgently needed.”


Prof Caitlin Notley, Professor of Addiction Sciences, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, said:

“I very much welcome the findings of this survey. The ASH annual survey is a well conducted source of robust evidence to inform us about population smoking and vaping behaviours, and offers important insights into public perceptions.

“As we observe from this data source, as well as other surveys, that rates of vaping have increased, it is so important to note that most people who vape are current or ex-smokers. This tells us that most people are using vaping as a way of quitting smoking. 

“However, it is concerning that ‘four in ten smokers (39%) in Great Britain now believe vaping is as or more risky compared with smoking’. This demonstrates an increase in inaccurate public perceptions, probably driven by media reporting. The main concern here is that inaccurate perceptions may impact behaviour, potentially preventing people who smoke from switching to vaping in order to quit smoking, or even relapsing back to tobacco smoking, in the fear that vaping may be more, not less, harmful to health. 

“It is particularly important that pregnant women who smoke tobacco are encouraged to stop as soon as possible. Switching to a less harmful way of using nicotine, such as vaping, needs to be encouraged and promoted. It is vital that media reporting does not scare pregnant women about vaping, because the consequences of continued tobacco smoking are so harmful for babies, as well as families.”


Dr Sharon Cox, Principal Research Fellow in Behavioural Science and Health, University College London (UCL), said:

“The evidence on vaping for smoking cessation is clear and strong, it is far safer to switch to vaping nicotine than it is to continue smoking combustible tobacco. Plus, these products are more effective than other available products in helping people to quit smoking. However, it is the poor reporting of studies, as well as poorly conducted studies, which has led to widespread misperceptions. Consequently, we are losing out on the net population health win that these products can offer. This trend needs to be stopped and reversed.”


Dr Sarah Jackson, Principal Research Fellow, UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, University College London (UCL), said:

“These findings are concerning, but not surprising. There is an ongoing disconnect between scientific evidence on the relative harms of vaping compared with smoking and how these risks are communicated to the public. Cigarettes are uniquely lethal, and a large number of studies have established that vaping (although not entirely risk-free) is much less harmful than smoking. But this is not what people are being told when they turn on their TV or read a newspaper. Rather, media coverage typically focuses on risks to young people who don’t smoke – and generally doesn’t compare these to any risks vapers would face if they opted to smoke instead. Understandably, this can lead to confusion about the relative harms of vaping compared with smoking, which ASH’s survey results show clearly.

“Misperceptions about the risks of vaping vs. smoking are a health risk in and of themselves. If smokers think vaping is equally or more harmful than smoking, they may be less inclined to try and switch to vaping, leaving them using a more harmful product. And if young vapers who have never smoked think the risks are similar, they may not be concerned about moving on from vaping to smoking.”



Press Release entitled ‘Four in ten smokers wrongly believe that vaping is as or more harmful as smoking’ and accompanying Fact Sheet by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was posted online at 00:01 UK Time on Thursday 3 August 2023.



Declared interests

Dr Leonie Brose: Dr Brose is on the ASH Advisory Council

Prof Peter Hajek: “No conflict of interest.”

Dr Sarah Jackson: “No COIs.”

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.

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