People attempting to quit smoking without professional help are about 60% more likely to succeed if they use e-cigarettes than by using over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum, or by quitting cold turkey, reported a survey of smokers in England.
The study, published in Addiction, surveyed more than 5,800 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had attempted to quit smoking without using prescription medication or professional support. In the study, 20% of people trying to quit with the aid of e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking conventional cigarettes. The results were adjusted for age, nicotine dependence, previous quit attempts, and whether quitting was gradual or abrupt.
The research, chiefly funded by Cancer Research UK, suggests that e-cigarettes could play a positive role in reducing smoking rates. The study’s senior author said in a press release that e-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking. But the strongest evidence remains for use smoking-cessation services, such as those offered through England’s National Health Service, which nearly triple a smoker’s odds of successfully quitting compared with going it alone or relying on over-the-counter products.
While there is little evidence about the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes, and some public health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of e-cigarettes could re-normalize smoking, the author noted that smoking rates in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing, and regular e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible.
An editorial published May 5 in the same journal called for more research into the field of e-cigarettes, citing the misperception that nicotine replacement product contain tobacco, the wide variety of products labelled as e-cigarettes, and questions about whether the products act as a gateway product to smoking.
“E-cigarettes may offer a way out of the smoking epidemic or a way of perpetuating it; robustly designed, implemented and accurately reported scientific evidence will be the best tool we have to help us predict and shape which of these realities transpires,” the editorial concluded.
ACP Internist addressed the use of e-cigarettes in a cover story in the March issue, and in recent coverage from Internal Medicine 2014.