Press Release - Thursday, 24 September 2020
BVA-SOVAPE 2020 vape and nicotine survey
The results of the new BVA-SOVAPE survey show that most French people still have false perceptions of the risks of vaping and nicotine. This is detrimental to public health and, because there has been no public information campaign to redress it, has not changed since 2019. Sovape, public health experts, addiction experts and smoking cessation experts are sounding the alarm.
How many smokers are discouraged from quitting because of false beliefs about effective alternatives? The French population’s state of misinformation about vaping and nicotine, as revealed by the BVA survey commissioned by the SOVAPE association, is very worrisome. Only 8% of respondents know that vaping massively reduces the risks compared to smoking. 78% mistakenly believe that nicotine is carcinogenic.
This perception of risk, which is contrary to reality, is a brake on people using vaping and nicotine substitution to stop smoking. In the absence of an adequate information campaign by authorities, the situation has not changed significantly since the previous BVA-SOVAPE survey in 2019.
75% of French people do not know that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
According to a new survey conducted in early September 2020 by BVA (see the report on Sovape website):
- Only 8% of French people know that vaping is much less risky than smoking (compared to 7% in 2019 - 1%);
- Only 23% think that it is a little or much less risky (versus 25% in 2019 + 2%);
- 58% think that vaping is as much or more risky as smoking (vs. 59% in 2019 - 1%);
- And 18% say they don’t know (versus 15% in 2019 - 3%).
Overall, 75% of French people are still mistaken about the risks of vaping compared to smoking.
Professor Gérard DUBOIS, member of the National Academy of Medicine, comments: “That less than one in ten French people know that vaping is much less dangerous than smoking, that nearly 2 in 3 French people think that vaping is as dangerous as smoking, and that 3 in 4 French people are mistaken is the disastrous result of criminal misinformation regarding the leading preventable cause of death in the world. (…) Vaping is one of the means to fight against the leading preventable cause of death: smoking. It is understandable that huge financial interests are dismayed to note that despite their efforts, smoking prevalence is falling in France. There is no doubt that if smokers, who for the most part want to stop smoking, knew exactly what is what, the effects would be even more spectacular. These are therefore avoidable deaths that are happening, and this is why misinformation is criminal in this area.”
Jean-Pierre COUTERON, Spokesperson for the Addiction Federation, contextualises: “At a time when so many of our fellow citizens are weakened by the economic and social crisis which is added to the Covid health crisis, not giving them the right information about the help that vaping can bring and not encouraging registration in self-support groups is a serious mistake - in terms of public health as much as in terms of harm reduction.”
No change in nicotine misperceived as a carcinogen
According to the new BVA-SOVAPE survey, 78% of French people believe that nicotine is carcinogenic (-2% compared to 2019).
However, nicotine is not a proven carcinogen for humans. “It is important that appropriate information is given to legitimise the use of nicotine, the primary active ingredient in replacement substitutes for smoking cessation," said Antoine Deutsch, from the French National Cancer Institute (INCa), at the October 2019 Vape Summit1. Unfortunately, this essential message remains unheard, due to a lack of media coverage.
Professor Benoit VALLET, from the School of Public Affairs SciencesPo Paris, declares: “This ‘erroneous perception’ amongst the French, the existence of which is reinforced this year, now not only merits strong investments in prevention messages from our national agency, but also research efforts in the human and social sciences to better understand this lack of knowledge and how it is maintained. Has the “tobacco and addictions” health insurance Fund already addressed this serious issue?”
Disinformation: a Detrimental Evil to Public Health
More than 96% of unassisted quit attempts fail. Nicotine substitution doubles the chances of success. Vaping doubles the chances compared to pharmaceutical substitutes. The combination of these aids with peer-support group follow-up can further double these odds, according to SOVAPE’s survey conducted during Tobacco-Free Month 20172. A 38% success rate of cessation at five months was measured in the follow-up of participants in the self-help group for smoking cessation with vaping on Facebook, now called INFO-VAPE3. Participants in the group are almost ten times more successful than those attempting to quit without help.
In the field, the demonisation of nicotine is detrimental to the work of helping people to quit smoking.
Doctor Valentine DELAUNAY says: “While giving smoking-cessation guidance to people who have already tried to quit smoking several times, I find that these people are still as uninformed as ever. They don’t know that smoking with a nicotine patch is possible, that vaping is a safe and validated tool for quitting, that it can be safely combined with nicotine substitutes (NRT). Only a large scale and repeated, coherent information campaign delivering these few key messages can reassure and inform French smokers.”
Professor Jean-François ETTER, from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, estimates: “These misperceptions have public health consequences: because of this, fewer smokers are giving up cigarettes and switching to lower-risk products. Correcting these misperceptions will require a long-term effort, which will include informing the public and professionals (health professionals, journalists, policy makers, etc.), training health professionals in particular, and allocating the necessary resources.”
Restoring the Truth: An Emergency and an Ethical Necessity
Nearly 75,000 people die from smoking-related diseases in France every year. Offering appropriate information to smokers to give them a chance to quit is an ethical necessity. Independent vaping professionals are banned from “advertising and propaganda” and cannot counterbalance smear campaigns. It is therefore up to the competent authorities to assume their responsibility in this matter.
Professor Antoine FLAHAUT, Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) says: “It seems to me that it is the primary responsibility of governments to recognise the harm reduction potential associated with the consumption of safer nicotine products and to promote them effectively to cigarette smokers. That 75% of French people still believe that the electronic-cigarette is no less harmful than the cigarette is a level of misinformation that is highly detrimental to the health of smokers. The learned societies, Santé Publique France, and the Ministry in charge of health should take up this issue, so that this trend is quickly reversed and so that the vast majority of French people understand that the consumption of safer nicotine products is infinitely less dangerous to health than smoked tobacco, because it is the tars and carbon monoxide (CO) produced by the combustion of tobacco that cause the cancers and cardiovascular diseases induced by smoking.”
However, since SOVAPE sounded the alarm in October 2019, no adequate information campaign has been undertaken on the subject. The Covid-19 epidemic has certainly created an exceptional situation, however, these circumstances should not aggravate the situation by abandoning other health issues, especially the main preventable cause of disease which is smoking. There is an urgent need to set the record straight and give smokers every chance to stop.
Jacques LE HOUEZEC, scientist, smoking cessation expert and trainer, concludes: “It is the burning that kills, not nicotine, and not even tobacco itself. Burning any plant produces the same toxins as burning a cigarette (tars, carbon monoxide, fine solid particles and oxidising gases). Instead of properly informing smokers about these simple and verified facts, anti-smoking campaigns have always wrongly blamed nicotine. The result is there to see, and it seems to me that it is even worse than it was a few years ago. The misinformation about vaping has undoubtedly and unduly reinforced fears for smokers and non-smokers alike. It is essential that correct and honest information be given to the population concerning nicotine and the tobacco harm reduction in general.”
Find Sovape’s full press release, all the reactions and BVA’s survey report at [access]
(1) Videos from 3e Vape Summit, in French and in English [access]
(2) Report in french about vaping group during Mois Sans Tabac 2017 [access]