University at Buffalo Study Shows U.S. Adults Hold Inaccurate Beliefs about Risks Associated with Various Tobacco Products

Published July 16, 2015

“The public deserves accurate information on the relative dangers of tobacco products, especially in a way that makes clear the deadliness of cigarette smoking.”
Lynn Kozlowski, PhD, Professor

A variety of alternatives to “traditional” cigarettes are on the market today, including smokeless tobacco and the growing market segment of vape or electronic cigarettes – or e-cigs. Although use of both of these products may be associated with health risks, those risks are much lower than the substantial health risks associated with daily smoking of “traditional” tobacco cigarettes. Given this, harm reduction approaches to addressing tobacco health concerns argue that adopting an alternative product may alleviate some health risks when a person is unwilling or unable to completely cease tobacco use.

In a study published in BMC Harm Reduction Journal, researchers from the department of community health and health behavior in the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions examined what beliefs the general public holds about the relative risks of different types of tobacco products.

“The public does not show an expert understanding of tobacco/nicotine harm reduction,” said Dr. Marc Kiviniemi, co-author of the study. “These limitations in the public’s understanding have the potential to lead to both individual and public health harms.”

Their findings show that the majority of the public has multiple inaccurate beliefs about relative risks of tobacco products, with many Americans believing that e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are just as risky as “traditional” cigarettes when, in fact, the health risks are lower and believing that some types of cigarettes are safer than others when, in fact, there is little or no evidence suggesting different risks by type of cigarette.

The authors also note that public health education campaigns to educate individuals about the actual relative harms about different types of tobacco products might increase the likelihood that smokers who are concerned about the health risks of cigarettes but who are unable or unwilling to completely stop tobacco product use will adopt harm reduction strategies. Such a reduction could reduce the population health problems associated with cigarette use.

“The public deserves accurate information on the relative dangers of tobacco products, especially in a way that makes clear the deadliness of cigarette smoking,” said Dr. Lynn Kozlowski, co-author of the study.

The University at Buffalo offers graduate degree level programs and is the home to five departments; biostatistics, exercise and nutrition sciences, community health and health behavior, rehabilitation science and epidemiology and environmental health. It is one of only a few schools across the country that includes health-related professions as an integral component of the public health educational and research system. University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions is located on the South Campus of University at Buffalo in Kimball Tower. For more information about the school, visit www.sphhp.buffalo.edu.