Most people know smoking is risky. But that is not news smokers can use. What they can benefit from is knowing the varying levels of risk associated with different tobacco products, according to public health researchers at the University at Buffalo, who found that a large number of people aren’t aware of the differences.
“Even for e-cigarettes, half of the public incorrectly believed them to be just as dangerous as cigarettes and an overwhelming majority of respondents incorrectly believed smokeless tobacco to be just as dangerous as traditional cigarettes,” Dr. Marc Kiviniemi, associate professor in the department of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, and co-author Dr. Lynn Kozlowski, a professor of community health and health behavior at UB, write in the paper, published in the July issue of the journal Harm Reduction.
[Photo: Dr. Marc Kiviniemi]
Drs. Kiviniemi and Kozlowski also report that 75 percent of U.S. adults misperceive smokeless tobacco products as being as harmful as cigarettes, calling it “both a considerable lack of knowledge and a serious public health problem.” Smokeless varieties of tobacco include chewing tobacco, snus and snuff.
Of course, that doesn’t mean these products are safe — just safer when compared to cigarettes. “Nobody is saying there’s no risk associated with smokeless tobacco use or e-cigarettes,” says Dr. Kozlowski.
“But the best evidence we have is that they are not as risky as traditional cigarettes. When people are making decisions, that difference in risk is important. There seems to be this perception that all tobacco is equally bad and that doesn’t fit the expert understanding of reality,” adds Dr. Kiviniemi.
Think of it this way: For people who continue to smoke, there are better alternatives to cigarettes that, while still hazardous, are not as lethal. For nonsmokers considering taking up tobacco, there are better options than reaching for a pack of cigarettes. “A mistaken belief can change your behavior in ways that will shorten your life,” says Dr. Kozlowski, a nationally recognized expert on tobacco and e-cigarettes. “The public has the right to know about the differential risks of these products.”
[Photo: Dr. Lynn Kozlowski]
It is also important to note, Dr. Kozlowski says, that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are protected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning they cannot be banned. The FDA’s warning labels on smokeless tobacco products do not help consumers understand that they are in fact safer when compared to cigarettes.