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Smokers Remain Unaware Of Health Effects Of Smoking

Armen Hareyan's picture

Despite major efforts to educate the public on the dangers of smoking over the past 40 years, a new national survey conducted by the American Legacy Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, an industry leader in smoking cessation, indicates major knowledge gaps exist in what smokers believe to be true about the risks associated with smoking compared the actual realities of tobacco-related disease and death. Experts believe these misperceptions may prevent smokers from trying to quit and successfully utilizing proven smoking cessation treatments.

According to the survey, while many smokers are aware that smoking can lead to serious health problems including lung cancer, many underestimate the risk of getting the disease from smoking. For example, two in three smokers underestimate the chance of developing lung cancer compared to a non-smoker and four in 10 incorrectly believe that developing lung cancer depends more on genes than anything else. Furthermore, the survey found that up to a third of smokers think that certain activities such as exercise and taking vitamins could "undo" most of the effects of smoking.(1)

"What is alarming about these survey findings is that so many smokers are still so misinformed," said Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation. "Proven cessation treatments like nicotine replacement therapy continue to be underutilized and we believe these misperceptions are partly to blame. These findings point to the fact that more needs to be done to educate and inform smokers."

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Misperceptions about the effects of nicotine found in cigarettes remain at the forefront. Almost all survey respondents (81 to 86 percent) either were unsure whether, or incorrectly believed that, nicotine caused cancer, emphysema or heart attacks.(1) While smoking has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, long-term use of NRTs are not known to be associated with any serious harmful effects.(2) These nicotine-related misperceptions can prevent consideration and appropriate use of smoking cessation aids such as nicotine replacement therapies (NRT).

The survey findings indicate smokers dramatically underestimate the safety and efficacy of NRT products such as the nicotine gum, patch and lozenge. More than 76 percent of smokers surveyed wrongly believe that, or do not know whether, NRTs are more addictive than cigarettes, highlighting the need for further education as cigarettes are vastly more addictive.(3,4) In fact, about half of the smokers surveyed stated they would be more likely to consider NRT if they were shown scientific evidence that prove its safety and efficacy.(1)

Other survey findings include: