Government regulations stipulate that, for lack of clinical proof, there is no way to know for sure if a significant number of smokers can stop by using one of the devices.
However, we might be one step closer to seeing the contentious issue put to rest thanks to a couple of important studies conducted last year in New Zealand.
The first study, published last autumn in the Addictive Behaviors journal, looked at the vaping and smoking habits of nearly 500 participants, all of which were either current smokers or former smokers using e-cig products. The results of the test were very encouraging for the e-cigarette industry.
It is important to note that while the research was certainly not conclusive, it did show electronic cigarettes may offer at least minimal potential for smoking cessation. Moreover, when combined with another New Zealand study looking at more than 650 participants, the data suggests the electronic tobacco alternative needs to be seriously considered as a way to help smokers wean themselves from their tobacco habit.
The study by the numbers
In the Addictive Behaviors study, researchers wanted to know how electronic cigarettes were being used by both current and former smokers. They devised two groups: those using e-cigarettes exclusively at the start of study and those who were using both e-cigarettes and tobacco (dual users). At the conclusion of the study, the data revealed the following:
- almost all of the individuals using e-cigarettes at the start of the study were still ‘vaping’ one month into it
- at the one-year mark, 89% of the participants were still vaping
- among those using e-cigarettes exclusively, 94% avoided tobacco relapse at the one-year mark
- among dual users, 46% managed to completely give up tobacco at one year.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about this study is that all of the volunteer participants were recruited from among those who would be considered regular visitors of electronic cigarette or smoking cessation websites. This suggests the participants were motivated to stop smoking – either before the study began or because of the study.
E-Cigarettes as good as nicotine patch
The second study was conducted at the University of Auckland by Dr Chris Bullen and a team that wanted to know how electronic cigarettes compared to approved nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs). They recruited 657 people who were committed to stopping smoking at the beginning of the study. The participants were divided into three groups: an e-cigarette group, an NRT group, and the placebo group.
At the end of six months, 7.3% of the e-cigarette users had managed to stop smoking as compared to 5.8% using an approved NRT. The quit rate among the placebo group was 4%. More importantly is the fact that 57% of those who had not managed to quit still significantly reduced their tobacco consumption by at least half. Only 41% of the NRT users were able to do likewise.
More research needed
It is unquestionably clear that the two studies together demonstrate there is good reason to believe e-cigarettes could be valuable for smoking cessation. Even if the evidence provided is not entirely conclusive, it should not be discounted as irrelevant. Rather, it should motivate further research to answer the question once and for all.
Why is this research important? Because the world has been fighting diligently over the last two decades to reduce the number of people who smoke. If the electronic cigarette can help in that fight, with minimal negative consequences, it should be embraced by the medical community, anti-tobacco groups, and governments worldwide. To do otherwise is to work against efforts to reduce smoking rates.
There are a number of electronic cigarette companies embracing this line of thinking; a line of thinking that suggests their products provide both harm reduction opportunities and a way to encourage smokers to stop. They at least deserve the benefit of proper scientific research before their technology is unilaterally dismissed.