E-cigarettes 'as effective' as nicotine patches

Man smoking electronic cigarette Research shows e-cigarettes help people cut down, but they still divide opinion

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Electronic cigarettes appear to be at least as effective as nicotine patches in helping people to give up smoking, research suggests.

The devices, which are rapidly growing in popularity, produce a vapour containing nicotine.

The findings, presented at the European Respiratory Society, showed similar numbers quitting with e-cigarettes as patches, but more had cut down.

There was a call, however, for long-term data on safety.

As well as giving a nicotine hit, the e-cigarettes also mimic the sensory sensations of smoking. This has led to speculation that they may be a useful tool for people trying to quit.

A team at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, conducted the first clinical trial comparing the devices with nicotine patches in 657 people.

The results published in the Lancet showed 7.3% using e-cigarettes had quit after six months compared with 5.8% using patches. However, the study did not involve enough people to definitively prove which is the better option.

Start Quote

The key message is that in the context of minimum support, e-cigarettes are at least as effective as nicotine patches. ”

End Quote Prof Peter Hajek Queen Mary University of London

After six months, however, the 57% of e-cigarette users had halved the number of cigarettes smoked each day compared with 41% in those using patches.

'Increasing popularity'

Prof Chris Bullen, from the University of Auckland, said: "While our results don't show any clear-cut differences between e-cigarettes and patches in terms of 'quit success' after six months, it certainly seems that e-cigarettes were more effective in helping smokers who didn't quit to cut down.

"It's also interesting that the people who took part in our study seemed to be much more enthusiastic about e-cigarettes than patches.

"Given the increasing popularity of these devices in many countries, and the accompanying regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, larger, longer-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether these devices might be able to fulfil their potential as effective and popular smoking cessation aids."

Regulations around the world are catching up with the surge in the popularity of e-cigarettes. The EU and the UK are both working towards regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as medicines.

The products also divide opinion with some arguing they normalise smoking and others saying they may help people to give up.

Prof Peter Hajek, the director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, described the study as "pioneering".

"The key message is that in the context of minimum support, e-cigarettes are at least as effective as nicotine patches.

"E-cigarettes are also more attractive than patches to many smokers, and can be accessed in most countries without the restrictions around medicines that apply to nicotine replacement therapy or the costly involvement of health professionals.

"These advantages suggest that e-cigarettes have the potential to increase rates of smoking cessation and reduce costs to quitters and to health services."

However, he did call for longer-term studies into the consequences of using the devices.

You can hear more from Prof Chris Bullen on Discovery on the BBC World Service.


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  • Comment number 661.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    "With traditional tobacco cigarettes there is a proven link to diseases and so they can justify heavy taxation to discourage people from smoking."

    Yeah, that's why they do it...not because they know people aren't going to give up smoking enmasse no matter how expensive it gets so they can basically whack all the tax they like on it.

    Mainly because they can't tax air.

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    If you ask smokers why they want to give up, almost none will say they have just "gone off cigarettes". This implies that most people don't want to give up nicotine, just the toxic and expensive delivery system. Nicotine is found naturally in many vegetables. Many find nicotine useful in their daily lives and I believe we should all have the right to consume it in whatever fashion we choose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    Two things make 'smoking' 'addictive':

    1. Nicotine

    2. When you smoke you essentially do the same deep breathing exercises that they teach you to do to relax if you have a panic attack.

    Giving up the nicotine is a bit of a bitch, but you shouldn't stop the deep and relaxing breathing that you have been doing. It's quite nice to breath deeply and imagine the clean nicotine blood moving about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.


    What justification would the government have for taxing e-cigs?

    With traditional tobacco cigarettes there is a proven link to diseases and so they can justify heavy taxation to discourage people from smoking.

    There aren't proven links with e-cigs, so there would be absolutely no justification for heavy taxation of them. Taxing them would simply encourage users to return to tobacco smoking.


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