Introduction: Media presentations of e-cigarettes may affect perception of the devices which may influence use.
Objectives: To assess in a cohort of past-year smokers (1) if perceived harm of e-cigarettes relative to cigarettes changed over time, (2) predictors of perceived relative harm, (3) if perceived relative harm predicted subsequent e-cigarette use among never-users.
Methods: Longitudinal web-based survey of a general population sample of British smokers and ex-smokers, waves in 2012 (n=4553), 2013 and 2014 (44%, 31% response rate, respectively). Changes over time were assessed using Friedman and McNemar tests, n=1204. Perceived relative harm at wave 3 was regressed onto perceived relative harm at waves 1 and 2, while adjusting for socio-demographics and change in smoking and e-cigarette status, n=1204. Wave 2 e-cigarette use among 1588 wave 1 never-users was regressed onto wave 1 socio-demographics, smoking status and perceived relative harm.
Results: Perceived relative harm changed (χ(2)=20.67, p<0.001); the proportion perceiving e-cigarettes to be less harmful than cigarettes decreased from 2013 to 2014 (χ(2)=16.55, p<0.001). Previous perception of e-cigarettes as less harmful, having tried e-cigarettes and having stopped smoking between waves predicted perceiving e-cigarettes as less harmful than cigarettes. Perceiving e-cigarettes to be less harmful than cigarettes predicted subsequent use, adjusting for other characteristics (OR=1.39; 95% CI: 1.08-1.80, p=0.011).
Conclusion: Among a cohort of smokers and ex-smokers, accurately perceiving e-cigarettes as less harmful than smoking predicted subsequent e-cigarette use in never-users; this perception declined over time. Clear information on the relative harm of cigarettes and e-cigarettes is needed.
Keywords: Behavior; Electronic cigarettes; Harm; Nicotine; Tobacco.
Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.. All rights reserved.