Rutgers survey: 77% of doctors mistakenly believe nicotine (not smoking) causes cancer

Many recent surveys are now indicating that a significant majority of Americans falsely believe that tobacco-free vaping is even more dangerous than smoking.  Unfortunately, a new study released by Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, seeming reveals that this potentially deadly myth is now seeping into the collective consciousness of the medical community, as well.

Between September 2019 and February 2019, the Rutgers team interviewed over 1000 physicians who specialize in the treatment of diseases associated with lifelong smokers. According to the research, most doctors wrongly perceive nicotine consumption as a substantial contributor to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and even cancer.  The individual findings are even more disturbing. 

      • 2 percent of oncologists (cancer doctors) mistakenly believe that nicotine, not smoking, contributes to developing cancer.
      • Over two-thirds of pulmonologists (lung doctors) incorrectly assume that nicotine ingestion increase the health risk of developing COPD.
      • An astounding 86 percent of cardiologists (heart doctors) wrongly presume that nicotine consumption contributes to poor cardiovascular health, such as increased risks of heart attacks and strokes.

Related Article:   Tobacco expert: ‘People smoke for nicotine, but they die from tar’

The science does not support these assertions though.  Tobacco control experts have known for decades that it is the tar in combustible cigarettes – not the nicotine – that clogs the airways of the respiratory system (COPD) and the arteries of the cardiovascular system (heart disease).  Regarding cancer, combustible cigarettes are laced with over 7,000 different chemicals, hundreds of which are known carcinogens.  Nicotine is not one of them.    

“Physicians must understand the actual risk of nicotine use as they are critical in the prescription and recommendation of FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy products to help patients who use other dangerous forms of tobacco…. Doctors should be able to accurately communicate these risks, which may include low-nicotine cigarettes, which are not safer than traditional cigarettes."
- Michael B. Steinberg, chief of the Rutgers University Division of General Internal Medicine and medical director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies

Related Article:   Harvard study: It’s the chemicals in cigarettes that kills, not the nicotine

The Rutgers research entitled Nicotine Risk Misperception Among US Physicians is recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM). Besides pulmonologists, cardiologist, and oncologists, the Rutgers team also surveyed physicians from the fields of family medicine, hematology, internal medicine, gynecology, obstetrics, and critical care.  In nearly all cases, the related doctors’ collective ignorance about the alleged dangers of nicotine compared to those of smoking far outweighed that of the general public. 

In a recent Pinney Associates study from the same timeframe, 52.9 percent of average Americans mistakenly assumed that nicotine causes cancer compared to the 77.2 percent of oncologists. “That adults’ misperceptions about the health effects of nicotine persist despite the long-term availability of FDA-approved over-the-counter nicotine replacement products is troubling and needs to be addressed with clear communications to the public,” lead author Dr. Karen K. Gerlach stated in a press release.  The fact that the medical community seems to be even more misinformed could be jeopardizing millions of patients’ lives. 

Related Article:   Absence of carbon monoxide makes e-cigs ‘substantially less harmful’ than smoking, says study

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