The Government has been urged to reconsider the severity of health warnings on e-cigarette packaging after a study found current messaging may deter smokers from switching to vaping.
Current health warnings around the risks of vaping may put off smokers as well as stopping people from taking it up, according to the study by London South Bank University (LSBU).
Using “reduced risk” messages instead encouraged tobacco smokers to ditch the cigarettes without enticing non-smokers to start vaping.
Researchers from the university’s centre for addictive behaviours research asked 2,495 UK residents how harmful, addictive and effective they thought e-cigarettes were, and whether they intended to use them.
They were asked to rate the e-cigarettes before and after viewing different health warnings online between December 2018 and January 2019.
Participants rated e-cigarettes as more harmful and addictive after they had viewed the EU messaging reading: “This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance. It is not recommended for non-smokers”.
An alternative reduced risk message stating “use of this product is much less harmful than smoking” was found to reduce perception of harm only in smokers.
It increased intentions to purchase and use e-cigarettes in smokers but not in non-smokers.
The authors wrote: “Because current (EU) messages focus on the absolute risks of nicotine use, they may actually deter use in smokers and undermine the potential of e-cigarettes to assist a change in smoking behaviour.
“Whilst reducing appeal amongst non-smokers is clearly desirable, effective health messaging should communicate risks without discouraging smokers.”
Lynne Dawkins, Professor of nicotine and tobacco studies at LSBU, who led the research, added: “Ultimately, if more smokers switch to e-cigarettes, there will be fewer smoking-related deaths and diseases.”
Kruti Shrotri, tobacco control manager at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said: “E-cigarettes are a relatively new product – we strongly discourage non-smokers from using them as they aren’t risk-free and we don’t yet know their long-term impact.
“But research so far shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco, and can help people to stop smoking.
“This study helps to build the evidence around what can be done to help smokers quit tobacco by switching to e-cigarettes, while ensuring non-smokers don’t start using them.”
Scientists remain divided on the degree of risks associated with vaping.
Cardiologists have said there is a “paucity of evidence” to support claims that e-cigarettes are a “healthy” alternative to smoking or that they help people quit.
This is in direct contrast to the advice issued by Public Health England (PHE), which stands by its claim that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking.
Last week, Apple said it was banning apps related to vaping from its app store amid concern about the impact on the health of young people.
The study is published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.