Objective: To describe and compare the perceptions of the general population about the harmful effects of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) on users and on those passively exposed to e-cigarettes and the perceptions about e-cigarette usefulness for reducing or eliminating tobacco smoking.
Design, setting, and participants: We analysed cross-sectional data from a longitudinal study of a representative sample of the general adult (≥16 years) population of Barcelona, Spain (336 men and 400 women). The fieldwork was conducted between May 2013 and February 2014. We computed the percentages, adjusted OR and their corresponding 95% CI among participants with some awareness of e-cigarettes (79.2% of the sample).
Primary and secondary outcome measures: We assessed the perception about harmfulness for e-cigarette users and for passively exposed non-e-cigarette users, as well as the perception of usefulness for smokers of cigarette cessation and reduction.
Results: In this sample, 40.1% thought that e-cigarettes had a harmful effect on users, and 27.1% thought that e-cigarettes had a harmful effect on passively exposed bystanders (p<0.001). Particularly, more never-smokers perceived that e-cigarettes had harmful effects on passively exposed bystanders than current smokers (34.4% vs 20.6%; OR=1.93, 95% CI 1.02 to 3.63). More people perceived e-cigarettes as being useful for reducing smoking than for quitting (50.6% vs 29.9%, p<0.001), as well as for reducing smoking than as being harmful to users (50.6% vs 40.1%, p=0.044).
Discussion: The perception that e-cigarettes are useful for reducing tobacco consumption was more prevalent than the perception that e-cigarettes are harmful to users and to those passively exposed to e-cigarettes. Advertisements and messages about the use of e-cigarettes and their harmful effects should be regulated and based on scientific evidence to avoid creating erroneous ideas about their use.
Keywords: EPIDEMIOLOGY; PREVENTIVE MEDICINE; PUBLIC HEALTH.
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