Many misperceptions of both risks and opportunities of e-cigarettes (e-cigs) exist among the general population and among physicians, although e-cigs could be a valuable harm reduction tool for current smokers.
Two groups in Flanders, namely general practitioners (GPs; family doctors) and tobacco counselors filled out an online questionnaire with regard to their attitudes and risk perceptions concerning e-cigs. Statements included were on the safety and the addictive properties of e-cigs in absolute terms, whereas other items compared e-cigs with regular tobacco cigarettes. Statements about possible “gateway” and “renormalization” effects, selling to minors, and use in public places and on the potential of e-cigs as a smoking cessation aid were also included. Respondents were also asked for the rate at which their patients asked information about e-cigs, if they would recommend e-cigs to their smoking patients, and whether they had information brochures on e-cigs.
About 70 % believed that e-cigs are harmful to vapers, and about half to two thirds believed that e-cigs are carcinogenic, increase cardiovascular risk, and increase the risk of chronic lung disease. Also, a substantial minority incorrectly believed these risks to be no less than those resulting from regular smoking. Ten to almost 20 % disagreed that e-cigs are healthier and represent less risk for the main serious smoking-related diseases than conventional cigarettes. More than half of the respondents disagreed that e-cigs are an effective smoking cessation aid. None (0 %) offered the strongest level of agreement for recommending e-cigs to their clients/patients, but GPs agreed to a lesser degree a bit more often than tobacco counselors. Almost none had information leaflets for potentially interested patients. Finally, the majority of our sample also believed that e-cigs will cause renormalization of smoking and that e-cigs will lead to an uptake of conventional smoking and disagreed with allowing vaping in enclosed public places.