Survey shows 53% of Americans mistakenly believe that nicotine is carcinogenic

Even before the alleged outbreak last summer of a mysterious, vaping-related lung disorder called EVALI, Americans were being bombarded with often contradictory information about e-cigarettes.  When scientists from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) conducted an in-depth survey of some 1,736 respondents, they were shocked to discover that over 53 percent mistakenly believe that nicotine is a carcinogenic.

This, of course, is not true.  In fact, nicotine is a naturally occurring substance more commonly found in eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, as well as the notorious tobacco leaves that comprise combustible cigarettes. According to the Virginia Tech research, it’s this fundamental misunderstanding of the word “nicotine” that is negatively influencing public opinion regarding vapor products, in general.   Other key findings of the survey entitled the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS-FDA Cycle 2) include:

  • Nearly 85 percent of respondents also assumed that nicotine is the compound in combustible cigarettes which keeps smokers hooked. However, recent research out of Harvard University refutes this myth entirely.  Harvard scientists have identified over 7,000 chemical additives in Big Tobacco cigarettes, at least 70 of which are highly addictive.  FDA-approved vapor products lack these additives altogether.
  • 9 percent of respondents wrongly believe that nicotine is a carcinogenic. If that were true, then food products made with tomatoes and potatoes would be pulled from store shelves by the FDA.
  • 5 percent of cigarette smokers surveyed were substantially more likely to incorrectly believe that nicotine causes most of the cancer caused by smoking – compared to only 14.6 percent o respondents who were daily e-cigarette users (in fact, it’s the tar not the nicotine that makes smoking so deadly)
  • Only 31.6 percent of smokers surveyed rightly believed that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking.

Related Article: Scientists refute ‘puzzlingly’ claims that vaping is just as deadly as smoking

The alarming differences between public perception and known scientific fact regarding the dangers of nicotine smoking versus vaping led one of the study’s co-authors to issue a public statement. In an interview with Business Insider,  Dr. Karen K. Gerlach called for all public health officials to communicate more clearly and more publicly the many health benefits of vaping. 

"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—especially smokers—that nicotine is not what is causing smoking-related disease…Leading public health experts[2] have called for trusted authorities to communicate clearly about nicotine to smokers, which should help them understand that there is a continuum of risk across nicotine-containing products and use that understanding to help them reduce risks to their health."

To be clear, scientists have known since the 1950s that it’s the burning of tobacco leaves only found in combustible cigarettes that causes the production of carcinogenic, tar-filled smoke that kills thousands of smokers annually.  The production of e-cigarette vapor does not involve the burning of tobacco leaves, which means that it’s also 100 percent tar-free.  The only thing that smoking and vaping have in common is nicotine, which is a non-carcinogenic substance. 

Related Article:  Vaping News: Harvard study shows nicotine is not addictive

(Images courtesy of Shutterstock)

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