US adult smokers' perceived relative risk on ENDS and its effects on their transitions between cigarettes and ENDS

BMC Public Health. 2022 Sep 19;22(1):1771. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-14168-8.


Background: Perceived risk reduction motivates smokers to switch to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). This research examines US smokers' relative risk perceptions and their prospective association with various behavioral stages of switching to ENDS.

Methods: Data from the nationally representative, longitudinal Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Adult survey, Waves 1 (2014) through 5 (2019), were analyzed. We assessed the association between the perceived risk of ENDS relative to cigarettes ("less harmful" vs. "equally harmful" or "more harmful") and 1) adoption of ENDS (among never-ENDS-using smokers), 2) complete switching to ENDS (i.e., stopping smoking, among ever-ENDS-using smokers), and 3) avoiding reversion to smoking (among smokers who had switched to ENDS), at the next wave.

Results: The proportion of US smokers perceiving ENDS as less harmful than cigarettes continually decreased, reaching 17.4% in Wave 5 (2019). Current smokers with such belief were more likely to adopt ENDS (aOR 1.31; 95% CI 1.15-1.50) and switch completely to ENDS (aOR 2.24; 95% CI 1.89-2.65) in the subsequent wave. Among smokers who had switched within the past year, such beliefs predicted avoidance of resumption of smoking in the next wave (aOR 0.55; 95% CI 0.33-0.93).

Conclusions: Smokers' beliefs about the relative risk of ENDS compared to cigarettes had a strong and consistent association with transitions between smoking and ENDS use. Addressing the growing misperception about ENDS has the potential to contribute to public health by encouraging smokers' switching to ENDS.

Keywords: Cigarette; Electronic cigarette; Electronic nicotine delivery system; Harm reduction; Risk perception; Smoking; Tobacco.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Risk
  • Smokers
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Products* / adverse effects