Skip to main content
Press Release

Four in ten smokers wrongly believe that vaping is as or more harmful as smoking

03 Aug 2023

The latest ASH annual survey data [1] show that in 2023:

  • Four in ten smokers (39%) in Great Britain now believe vaping is as or more risky compared with smoking up from a third last year; and
  • 1.8 million smokers (27%) have never tried vaping even though it’s a very effective quitting aid
  • And 2.9 million smokers have tried vaping but stopped

Earlier this year the Government announced a national ‘swap to stop’ campaign to offer 1 million smokers a free vaping starter kit together with behavioural support, to help them quit smoking. [2] Vaping combined with behavioural support is nearly twice as effective as medicinal nicotine replacement therapy, [3] so this evidence-based strategy could play a significant role in delivering the government’s smokefree 2030 ambition.

However, the success of ‘swap to stop’ is threatened by growing concerns among smokers that vaping is as or more risky then smoking.

Among the 1.8 million smokers who are yet to try vaping 43% believe e-cigarettes are as harmful or more than smoking up from 27% in 2019. Among the 2.9 million smokers who have tried vaping but stopped, 44% believe vaping is as harmful or more than smoking up from 25% in 2019. The most accurate risk perceptions are among the 2.7 million ex-smokers who vape and 2.9 million ex-smokers who are ex-vapers, 75% and 45% of whom correctly believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking.

Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of ASH said:

“The Government has backed a vaping strategy as its path to reduce rates of smoking, but this approach will be undermined if smokers don’t try vapes due to safety fears or stop vaping too soon and revert to smoking. The Government must act quickly to improve public understanding that vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking.

Dr Ruth Sharrock, Clinical Lead for Tobacco Dependency, North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care Board added that vaping was an important tool to support smokers to quit:

“When I see patients who smoke they are already sick with smoking-related disease and have often given up hope of ever stopping. Vaping is a valuable tool in our armoury to tackle smoking, particularly for patients who are heavily addicted. However, too many of my patients have seen alarmist media headlines that worry them and put them off giving vaping a go.”

Alongside the 2023 data on adult vaping ASH is publishing a ‘myth buster’ [4] challenging common misrepresentations of the evidence on vaping. This has been developed with the country’s leading experts on smoking and vaping and provides evidence that:

  • Vaping is NOT more harmful than smoking
  • Vaping is NOT more addictive than smoking
  • Vaping is NOT a proven gateway into smoking
  • Nicotine DOES NOT damage young people’s brain development

Professor Ann McNeill, King’s College London, author of Government commissioned review on the harms from vaping [5] and contributor to the ASH myth buster, commented:
“Anxiety over youth vaping is obscuring the fact that switching from smoking to vaping will be much better for an individual’s health. It is wrong to say we have no idea what the future risks from vaping will be. On the contrary levels of exposure to cancer causing and other toxicants are drastically lower in people who vape compared with those who smoke, which indicates that any risks to health are likely to be a fraction of those posed by smoking.

“We must not be complacent about youth vaping and further regulation is needed, but so too is work to ensure many more adults stop smoking and vaping is an effective means of doing that’.”

Commenting on whether communicating more accurate perceptions of vaping would further fuel youth vaping [6] Ms Cheeseman added:

“It’s not because they think it’s safe that teenagers are experimenting with vaping. Harm perceptions are even more inaccurate among teens than the adult population. They are vaping because products appeal to them and are cheap and easily accessible. Further regulation will be more effective than scare mongering. Worse, if teenagers who experiment with vaping think that smoking is just as bad, then there is a risk they may be more likely to smoke.”


Notes to the Editor

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive, Hazel Cheeseman Deputy Chief Executive, are available for media interviews contact

[1] Use of e-cigarettes among adults in Great Britain. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 12271 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22/02/2023 - 15/03/2023 . The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults. (aged 18+). Data is weighted by age, gender, region, education status, social grade, and ethnicity. Population estimates were undertaken by ASH using ONS mid-year estimates.

[2] April 2023 Minister O’Brien speech:

[3] Cochrane ‘living review’ of vaping effectiveness:

[4] Addressing common myths about vaping, ASH brief.

[5] OHID commissioned report from King’s College London:

[6] Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Use of e-cigarettes (vapes) among young people in Great Britain. 2023