Accuracy of smokers' risk perceptions

Ann Behav Med. 1998 Spring;20(2):135-40. doi: 10.1007/BF02884459.


In response to disagreements about the extent to which smokers recognize the full risk of smoking-induced illness, an attempt was made to review all articles that have investigated smokers' risk perceptions. These diverse studies are grouped here into four categories, depending on the type of risk judgment solicited by researchers. This grouping shows that the apparent underestimation or overestimation of risk depends on how risk perceptions are assessed. No single conclusion about the accuracy of smokers' numerical risk estimates is possible since the accuracy depends entirely on the health outcome rated (e.g. lung cancer versus all deaths due to smoking). With other types of risk questions, smokers consistently acknowledge that smoking increases health risks, but they judge the size of these increases to be smaller and less well-established than do non-smokers. Finally, smokers minimize the personal relevance of the risks: they do not believe that they are as much at risk as other smokers of becoming addicted or suffering health effects. The accumulated data indicate that smokers continue to minimize their personal health risks.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Risk Assessment
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / psychology*