Misinformation: A major threat to smoke-free progress

An international survey carried out for PMI reveals that misinformation may prevent adult smokers who don’t quit altogether from switching to better, smoke-free alternatives. 
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Misinformation poses a significant threat to progress on society’s journey toward a smoke-free future, a global survey reveals.

Despite strong public support for smoke-free products that are scientifically substantiated to be better than continued smoking, a survey of 29,484 adults conducted for PMI by independent research firm Povaddo has found many adult smokers are confused by conflicting information about them.

Accurate information for informed choices

A vast majority of respondents agree that accurate information about smoke-free alternatives is essential to help move these millions of men and women permanently away from cigarettes:

  • 91 percent of smokers who have switched to a better alternative and stopped smoking confirm that having accurate information about how these products differ from cigarettes was an important factor in their decision.
  • 79 percent agree that adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking should have access to, and accurate information about, smoke-free alternatives. This is supported by 87 percent of current smokers.

Confusion around smoke-free products

The survey underscored the real-world consequences of misinformation for those adults who continue to smoke.

There is confusion around the differences between cigarettes and scientifically substantiated smoke-free products—preventing many from switching: 

  • Nearly half of the respondents wrongly believe that e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are more than or equally as harmful as cigarettes (around 45 percent for each product category). Among current smokers, these figures stand at 39 percent for e-cigarettes and 40 percent for heated tobacco products.
  • Only 41 percent correctly identified that the high level of toxicants (19 percent) or tar (22 percent) generated by burning tobacco is the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. 
  • Just over half of the respondents (52 percent) agree that nicotine, while addictive and not risk-free, is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.
  • More than six-in-ten exclusive smokers (63 percent) would be more likely to switch to a better alternative (such as e-cigarettes or heated tobacco products) if they had clarity on how they differ from cigarettes and the science behind them.
  • Four-in-ten (39 percent) of survey respondents who have seen or read something about smoke-free products in the past six months received unclear or conflicting information. This figure increases to 46 percent among current smokers.
  • More than three-in-ten smokers mention lack of information (33 percent) and uncertainty about the science (35 percent) among their reasons for not considering switching to smoke-free alternatives.

Facts must confront misinformation to drive progress

The public believes the issue of misinformation must be addressed.

Respondents generally expect companies, governments, regulators, public health bodies, and other key groups to work together—leading with science and facts—to accelerate a smoke-free future globally: 

  • 72 percent of respondents support tobacco companies working with governments, regulators, and public health experts to ensure that smokers have access to, and accurate information about, smoke-free alternatives. Support is even higher among current smokers at 83 percent.
  • 82 percent of respondents believe that their national government has a responsibility to objectively review and consider scientific evidence about smoke-free alternative products coming from manufacturers, such as PMI. 
  • 83 percent of respondents believe that intergovernmental organizations like the World Health Organization have a responsibility to provide adult smokers with evidence-based information about smoke-free alternatives.

Public health milestone

A smoke-free future is within our reach. PMI believes that with the right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society, cigarette sales can end within 10 to 15 years in many countries.

However, the spread of misinformation threatens to hamper such progress.

Only by providing adult smokers with access to smoke-free alternatives and accurate information about these products can we enable them to make informed, better choices.

This, in turn, will accelerate our ambition of achieving a monumental public health breakthrough that sees smoking rates decline far more rapidly than through traditional measures alone. 

* Povaddo conducted this online survey on behalf of PMI between July 19 and August 3, 2021. The survey was fielded among 29,484 respondents with legal age, general population adults aged 21 or older, in 26 countries and territories: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the United States.