A study published this week in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows fewer Americans think smoking a pack of cigarettes a day poses a great health risk compared to 10 years ago.
The research, compiled by Duke Health using data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, shows the number of Americans who considered smoking a pack a day or more to be a “great risk” dropped by 1%, or about 3 million Americans, from 2006 to 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage of survey participants who believed it posed “no risk” increased from 1.45% to 2.63%. Also of note: Changes in perceptions about the dangers of heavy smoking were more pronounced in female respondents than males.
In a news release announcing the findings, study co-author Joe McClernon, PhD, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University, attributed the shift to several potential causes, such as message fatigue—that Americans have heard anti-smoking messaging for so long, it has lost its impact.
Lauren Pacek, PhD, the study’s lead author and a Duke University assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in an email to Addiction Professional that it’s also possible that the increasing severity of the opioid crisis and media coverage of the epidemic could be shifting some of the public’s awareness away from the harms of smoking, although she stopped short of saying that alone was the rationale for the study’s findings.
McClernon noted in the release that another possible cause could be that fewer Americans know smokers or people with tobacco-related diseases. To that point, the number of people in the U.S. actually smoking regularly has dropped over the same period covered by the Duke research, from 20.8% to 15.1%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, the Duke researchers concluded their report by calling for “innovative interventions to reinforce the harms associated with smoking,” as well as gender-specific interventions in response to the different rates of decline between males and females.
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