Four in 10 smokers wrongly believe vapes are more or as harmful as tobacco – Make Smoking History

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Four in 10 smokers wrongly believe vapes are more or as harmful as tobacco

New data reveals that, among the 1.8 million smokers who are yet to try vaping, as many as four in ten wrongly believe vapes are at least as harmful, or even more harmful, than smoking.

lab technicians inspecting a selection of vapes on a test tube rack

It comes from a recent survey carried out by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). These findings suggests that an increasing number of people are misinformed on the harms of smoking and vaping, which could be preventing countless smokers from being able to quit by switching to vaping.

It also threatens to undermine Government efforts to offer smokers the chance to quit with the aid of a vape as part of its ‘swap to stop’ initiative.

The survey data shows that:

  • In 2023, four in 10 smokers (39 per cent) in Great Britain believe vaping is as risky, or more risky, than smoking. This is a substantial increase since this survey was last carried out in 2019, which reported only 27 per cent of smokers believing this at the time.
  • Despite expert opinion that vaping is a highly effective aid to use when quitting smoking, as many as 1.8 million smokers have never tried vaping.
  • 2.9 million smokers have tried vaping but stopped. Among this group, 44 per cent said they believe vaping is as harmful, or more harmful, than smoking – which is up from 25 per cent in 2019.
  • Those with the most accurate perceptions were found to be the 2.7 million ex-smokers who vape – 75 per cent of whom correctly believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
  • It’s similar for the 2.9 million ex-smokers who are also ex-vapers that responded to the survey – 45 per cent of whom correctly believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
We know that vaping is much less harmful than tobacco

Dr Matthew Evison, Clinical Lead for Greater Manchester’s Making Smoking History programme, said: “These misconceptions are concerning to me as a doctor trying to help people prevent harm from smoking. Although it’s not completely risk free, we know that vaping is much less harmful than tobacco and is therefore a valuable tool to help people stop smoking and stay off tobacco for good, particularly for patients who are heavily addicted.

“But it is recommended that you use a range of tools and behavioural support when quitting smoking. So I would encourage anyone that wants to give up smoking speaks to a stop smoking advisor or medical professional about the quitting aids and options that are available to them.”

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of ASH added: “The government has backed a vaping strategy as its path to reduce rates of smoking, but must act quickly to improve public understanding that vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking.”

Earlier this year the national ‘swap to stop’ campaign was launched to offer one million smokers a free vaping starter kit, together with behavioural support, to help them quit smoking. This is because vaping combined with behavioural support has been found to be nearly twice as effective as medicinal nicotine replacement therapy.

ASH launches vaping ‘myth buster’ to set the record straight

Alongside the 2023 data on adult vaping, ASH has now published a ‘myth buster’ to challenge common misrepresentations surrounding the evidence on vaping. Developed with the country’s leading experts on smoking and vaping, this provides evidence that vaping is not more harmful, nor more addictive than smoking. Vaping is also not a proven gateway to smoking, and nicotine hoes not damage young people’s brain development.

Professor Ann McNeill of King’s College London is author of a government-commissioned review into the harms of vaping and contributed to the ASH myth buster.

She said: “Anxiety over youth vaping is obscuring the fact that switching from smoking to vaping will be much better for an individual’s health. It is wrong to say we have no idea what the future risks from vaping will be. On the contrary, levels of exposure to cancer-causing and other toxicants are drastically lower in people who vape compared with those who smoke, which indicates that any risks to health are likely to be a fraction of those posed by smoking.

“We must not be complacent about youth vaping and further regulation is needed, but so too is work to ensure that many more adults stop smoking, and vaping is an effective means of doing that.”

For free, personalised support to stop smoking in Greater Manchester, speak to your Local Stop Smoking Service, GP, pharmacist, or call the NHS Stop Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044.

Greater Manchester residents can also get six months’ free access to the Smoke Free app – usually worth £60 – by signing up online at (T&Cs apply).