E-Cigarettes Help People Kick Butts

Critics of using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool argue that e-cigarettes replace one bad habit with another. Now a new study finds that smokers who attempt to quit smoking without professional help are 60 percent more likely to report success if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone, or over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as patches or gum.

The study, published in Addiction, was conducted by researchers at the University College of London (UCL). The results were adjusted for a wide range of factors that might influence success at quitting, including age, nicotine dependence, previous quit attempts, and whether quitting was gradual or abrupt.

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Almost 6,000 Smokers Surveyed

Between 2009 and 2014, the researchers surveyed 5,863 smokers who had attempted to quit smoking without the aid of prescription medication or professional support. The research, funded mainly by Cancer Research UK, suggests that e-cigarettes could play a positive role in reducing smoking rates.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S., including an estimated 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases (including emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic airway obstruction), and diabetes.

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One-Fifth of People Using E-Cigarettes Quit Smoking

The study found that 20 percent of people trying to quit with the aid of e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking conventional cigarettes at the time of the survey. Slightly over ten percent of smokers using OTC aids, such as nicotine replacement patches or gum, had quit; and of those using willpower alone, 15.4 percent had kicked smoking.

Lead study author, Jamie Brown, Ph.D., of the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at UCL, told Healthline, “This study is just one piece of the puzzle, but there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the positive impact e-cigarettes may be having on public health.”

Senior author of the study, professor Robert West of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, said in a press statement, while e-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking, it is important to recognize that “the strongest evidence remains for use of the National Health Service (NHS) stop-smoking services.” NHS is the publicly funded healthcare system for England. 

West said these NHS services almost triple a smoker’s odds of successfully quitting compared with going it alone or relying on OTC products.

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Future Monitoring in Advanced Devices

The research team conducted a previous survey, which found that most e-cigarette use involves first generation "cigalike" products, rather than second generation ones that use refillable cartridges and offer a wider choice of nicotine concentrations and flavors.

Brown said in the press statement that the researchers will continue to monitor success rates in people using e-cigarettes to stop smoking to see whether there are improvements as the devices become more advanced.

West added, “It is not clear whether long-term use of e-cigarettes carries health risks, but from what is known about the contents of the vapor, these will be much less than from smoking.”

Acknowledging that some public health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of e-cigarettes could “re-normalize” smoking, the researchers said they don’t see any evidence of this and are tracking it very closely. “Smoking rates in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing, and regular e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible,” said the researchers.

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