Electronic cigarette use among smokers slows as perceptions of harm increase

Author: Action on Smoking and Health

Date: May 2015

Today Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) publishes new data showing that use of electronic cigarettes has grown over the last year. It is estimated that there are now 2.6 million vapers in Britain. This has grown from an estimated 2.1 million in 2014 but nearly all of this increase is attributable to an increase in the number of ex-smokers using electronic cigarettes.

Data from the Smokefree Britain Survey conducted by YouGov and analysed by researchers at King’s College London shows that electronic cigarette use between 2014 and 2015 has:

  • Increased among ex-smokers (from 4.5% in 2014 to 6.7% in 2015)
  • Remained the same among current smokers (17.6% of smokers in 2014 and 2015).
  • Remained extremely rare among never-smokers (0.2% over the last three years)

The most popular reason current vapers gave for using electronic cigarettes was to help them stop smoking completely (48%) and to prevent them from relapsing to smoking (38%).

Over the same period there has been a growing false belief that electronic cigarettes could be as harmful as smoking:

  • Among the general population who have heard of electronic cigarettes, between 2014 and 2015 there was a significant increase in the perception that electronic cigarettes are as harmful or more harmful than smoking (from 15% in 2014 to 22% in 2015).
  • Among smokers who have never tried electronic cigarettes but are aware of them, this perception of harm has nearly doubled from 12% in 2014 to 22% in 2015.

Different types of products have also changed in popularity over the last year. In 2014 the most popular products were ‘cig-a-like’, which resemble traditional cigarettes but in 2015 refillable ‘tank’ devices, which come in a range of shapes and sizes, have increased in popularity:

  • In 2014 41% of current vapers used ‘tank’ models while 55% used ‘cig-a-like’ devices
  • In 2015 ‘tank’ models were the most popular product among current vapers with 66% using them while only 32% use ‘cig-a-like’ devices.

Recent research conducted by academics at King’s has indicated that using ‘tank’ devices was associated with having quit smoking successfully.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said: "The number of ex-smokers who are staying off tobacco by using electronic cigarettes is growing, showing just what value they can have. But the number of people who wrongly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking is worrying. The growth of this false perception risks discouraging many smokers from using electronic cigarettes to quit and keep them smoking instead which would be bad for their health and the health of those around them."

Dr Leonie Brose, Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London said: "We must clearly communicate the relative safety of electronic cigarettes to smokers. The proven harm of tobacco is currently getting less coverage than the much smaller and far less certain harm from electronic cigarettes. We owe it to smokers to provide them with accurate information."

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Last revised: 21 May 2017

Next review: 21 May 2020