As a health reporter, I hate covering flip-flopping studies like a March finding that electronic cigarettes don’t help smokers quit and a new British study finding that they do. Here’s the simple explanation for the conflicting findings: The first study that found e-cigarettes were useless for quitting did not look specifically at those who were actually trying to stop smoking — while the more recent study finding did.
It surveyed 5,863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had made a serious attempt to quit over the past year using either e-cigarettes — which have battery-operated cartridges to heat liquid nicotine that’s inhaled as a vapor — or over-the-counter cessation aids like nicotine patches, gum or lozenges, or nothing at all to help them quit. The study found that e-cigarette users were 60 percent more likely to have been successful in their quitting efforts compared to those in the other two groups; the researchers took into account income level, nicotine dependence, and other differences between those who used e-cigarettes and those who didn’t.
“This was a real-world observational study to see how well e-cigarettes work when used specifically to help people stop smoking,” said study author Dr Jamie Brown, a senior research associate at University College in London. “The trade-off is we cannot definitively rule out that an unmeasured factor may have influenced the result.”
One clinical trial last year found that e-cigarettes were slightly more effective than nicotine patches for helping smokers quit, while another found that e-cigarettes helped smokers quit regardless of whether they contained nicotine or were placebo devices without any nicotine at all. In both trials, though, fewer than 10 percent of e-cigarette users were able to completely give up smoking tobacco cigarettes by the end of the studies.
In Brown’s population study, nearly 20 percent of the e-cigarette users reported that they were no longer smoking regular cigarettes more than six months after they quit compared to 8 percent of those who used an over-the-counter product and 17 percent who used nothing at all.
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