Fewer Americans think smoking a pack a day poses a great health risk

February 27, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. -- About 3 out of 4 Americans agree that smoking cigarettes causes health problems, but public perception of the risks posed by smoking may be declining, according to a Duke Health study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

From 2006 to 2015, the number of Americans who said smoking a pack or more per day posed a great health risk dropped by 1 percent, which represents more than 3 million Americans.

So far, the change in perceived risk has not appeared to result in more smokers. During the same period, smokers in the U.S. dropped from 20.8 percent to 15.1 percent, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it could signal a potential slowing of progress.

"That's 3 million people who might be more likely to start smoking, go back to smoking, or who are less likely to quit if they already smoke," said Lauren Pacek, Ph.D., the study's lead author and an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke. The change in risk perception also changed more significantly in women than in men, the authors found.

"We were surprised by the findings," said co-author Joe McClernon, Ph.D., professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "Cigarettes haven't fundamentally changed over the last 15 years. They're no safer. And we continue to see that large numbers of Americans are dying from tobacco related disease -- as many as 400,000 a year. So, it's curious that the facts haven't changed, but the risk perceptions have gone down."

The findings are based on responses from more than 559,000 people over age 12 who took the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an in-home survey administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration since the 1970s.

The survey asks: "How much do people risk harming themselves physically and in other ways when they smoke one or more packs of cigarettes per day?" Respondents selected "no risk," "slight risk," "moderate risk," or "great risk."

As the number of respondents who saw smoking as a great risk declined, the number of who said it posed no risk increased, jumping from 1.45 percent to 2.63 percent over the 10-year span.

Older teens and adults were more likely than teens 12 to 17 to see smoking as a great health risk. Daily smokers were less likely than former smokers and non-smokers to see cigarette use dangerous to their health.

A number of factors could be driving the change, McClernon said, including message fatigue.

"The idea here is that Americans have heard so often, and for so long, about how harmful cigarettes are that the message is less impactful," McClernon said. It may also be possible that fewer Americans know smokers or people with tobacco-related disease, and this also could decrease perceived harm, he said.

"We'd like to see public policy experts and population health advocates look at these findings, step back and work on ways to increase public perception of the cigarette smoking risks," McClernon said. "Maybe that's through public education campaigns or changes in tobacco product labeling. We think our data suggest that there are some segments of the population -- women and young teens, for instance -- who might benefit more from these efforts."

The Duke researchers are conducting several ongoing projects to examine how different tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes, influence people's perception of smoking risks or the decision to quit.
-end-
The research was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse (K01DA043413), a division of the National Institutes of Health. The authors cited no conflicts of interest.

Duke University Medical Center

Related Smoking Articles from Brightsurf:

Smoking rates falling in adults, but stroke survivors' smoking rates remain steady
While the rate of Americans who smoke tobacco has fallen steadily over the last two decades, the rate of stroke survivors who smoke has not changed significantly.

What is your risk from smoking? Your network knows!
A new study from researchers at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication found that most people, smokers and non-smokers alike, were nowhere near accurate in their answers to questions about smoking's health effects.

Want to quit smoking? Partner up
Kicking the habit works best in pairs. That's the main message of a study presented today at EuroPrevent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Smoking and mortality in Asia
In this analysis of data from 20 studies conducted in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India with more than 1 million participants, deaths associated with smoking continued to increase among men in Asia grouped by the years in which they were born.

Predictors of successfully quitting smoking among smokers registered at the quit smoking clinic at a public hospital in northeastern Malaysia
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health, Nur Izzati Mohammad et al. consider how cigarette smoking is one of the risk factors leading to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases and cancer.

Restaurant and bar smoking bans do reduce smoking, especially among the highly educated
Smoking risk drops significantly in college graduates when they live near areas that have completely banned smoking in bars and restaurants, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

How the UK smoking ban increased wellbeing
Married women with children reported the largest increase in well-being following the smoking bans in the UK in 2006 and 2007 but there was no comparable increase for married men with children.

Smoking study personalizes treatment
A simple blood test is allowing Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) researchers to determine which patients should be prescribed varenicline (Chantix) to stop smoking and which patients could do just as well, and avoid side effects, by using a nicotine patch.

A biophysical smoking gun
While much about Alzheimer's disease remains a mystery, scientists do know that part of the disease's progression involves a normal protein called tau, aggregating to form ropelike inclusions within brain cells that eventually strangle the neurons.

A case where smoking helped
A mutation in the hemoglobin of a young woman in Germany was found to cause her mild anemia.

Read More: Smoking News and Smoking Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.