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Attitudes towards vaping in England: Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2019

Man using an e cigarette
Published: January 2022

This secondary analysis project set out to investigate the perceptions of the harms and benefits of e-cigarettes, and how they differ amongst adults in England.

Adults in England have more positive attitudes towards vaping than smoking, however they are more likely to hold pragmatic views on the benefits of vaping rather than overwhelmingly positive views on vaping itself. Furthermore, it appears that news reports from the US of serious lung injuries and deaths related to vaping devices in 2019 may have negatively impacted attitudes towards nicotine-containing vaping devices in England, even though these were later found to be caused by ingredients in cannabis-containing e-cigarettes.

This secondary analysis project set out to investigate the perceptions of the harms and benefits of e-cigarettes, and how they differ amongst adults in England. As well as looking at the different views of smokers and vapers, it also investigated how attitudes towards vaping varied between different demographic and socio-economic groups and if these attitudes were impacted by news reports of vaping-related deaths in the summer of 2019.

Findings

  • Current and former vapers had much more positive attitudes towards vaping than both non-smokers and people who had smoked but never regularly vaped.
  • Only 15% of respondents reported generally positive attitudes towards vaping. 4 in 10 people held generally negative attitudes towards vaping, but a greater proportion (45%) recognised the benefit of vaping as an alternative to smoking, despite also believing that vaping is itself harmful.
  • A small, but notable group of people did not believe there was sufficient evidence available to answer questions about the harmfulness of vaping.
  • Positive attitudes towards vaping were associated with libertarian political attitudes. People with authoritarian attitudes were twice as likely (44%) as those with libertarian attitudes (22%) to have negative views of vaping.
  • People interviewed after news stories of vaping-related deaths and injuries broke had significantly more negative views on a range of issues, including the health impacts of vaping, the benefits of vaping when compared with smoking, and the usefulness of vaping as a means of stopping smoking.

Methodology

Weighted descriptive statistics were produced to investigate how attitudes towards vaping and smoking varied across England, and how these attitudes were related to respondents’ vaping and smoking habits and their individual characteristics.

To investigate people’s general attitudes towards vaping, two advanced statistical methods were used:

  • Confirmatory Factor Analysis was used to identify if there were dimensions of attitudes towards vaping that were underpinning individual responses to survey question. This approach was used to build a series of factor models based on expectations of attitudes towards vaping potentially reflected in the data.
  • Latent Class Analysis (LCA) was used to create a typology of people based on their attitudes towards vaping and smoking so as to understand better the clustering of attitudes towards vaping and smoking amongst adults in England. In this data-driven approach, a series of models were built and then compared using the statistical information generated about each model to assess which best fit the data.

Logistic regression models were then built to estimate the adjusted relationship between key variables of interest and both the factor scores and class memberships generated from this work. This included investigating whether respondents who were interviewed after news stories broke about vaping-related injuries and deaths in the US reported more negative attitudes towards vaping, while controlling for their vaping and smoking behaviours and individual characteristics.

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