Study finds e-cigarettes can help smokers quit

E-cigarettes may actually help smokers quit, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study results strengthen the theory that e-cigarettes are an effective method to quit traditional smoking. While quitting traditional smoking is expected to reduce health risks, the risks of e-cigarettes are still somewhat unknown.

However, e-cigarettes were nearly twice as effective as other methods such as nicotine replacement products for quitting smoking, according to the study. The findings could also provide a much needed boost for e-cigarette companies like Juul, which has come under fire for allegedly promoting its products to teenagers. E-cigarette companies are currently facing threats of new regulations as usage among U.S. adults and teenagers continues to rise.

“There are questions about risks and benefits of use of e-cigarettes for different purposes, but an important clinical issue is whether e-cigarette use in a quit attempt facilitates success, particularly as compared with the use of nicotine-replacement therapy,” study author Peter Hajek, PhD, with the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, et al. wrote.

Researchers randomly assigned adults in the U.K.'s National Health Service stop-smoking services either nicotine-replacement products of their choice, such as gum or patches, for up to three months, or an e-cigarette starter pack. The treatment included weekly behavioral support for at least one month.

Out of the 866 participants in the randomized trial, the one-year abstinence rate was 18 percent in the e-cigarette group, compared to 9.9 percent in the nicotine-replacement group. The e-cigarette group was also more likely to still be using their assigned product after 52 weeks than the nicotine-replacement group, the study found.

However, throat or mouth irritation was reported more frequently among the e-cigarette group, 65.3 percent, compared to the nicotine-replacement group, 51.2 percent. Nicotine-replacement products caused more nausea, though the effects were mild, according to the results.

E-cigarettes may have been more successful in helping smokers quit for a few reasons, though the rate of continuing e-cigarette use was “fairly high,” Hajek and colleagues found. This could potentially pose other health problems long term.

“As in previous studies, e-cigarettes were more effective in alleviating tobacco withdrawal symptoms and received better ratings than nicotine-replacement therapy,” Hajek et al. wrote. “They may also have allowed better tailoring of nicotine dose to individual needs.”

Still, more research is needed on the subject, according to the researchers, who concluded that the results are likely to be valid for dependent smokers seeking help to quit. Another recent analysis found that millions of e-cigarette users have never smoked traditional tobacco cigarettes.