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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

E-cigs 'as effective as patches' in helping smokers quit

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

8th September 2013 - Electronic cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches in helping people give up smoking, according to the results of a trial.

The authors of the study, which is published in the online edition of The Lancet, say e- cigarettes may even be a more useful quitting tool, as smokers generally prefer them over patches.

'Vaping' for a nicotine fix

Bans on smoking in public places helped fuel a boom in e-cigarette sales. The nicotine delivery devices are marketed to as a less harmful and cheaper alternative to smoking real cigarettes or as a way of getting a nicotine 'fix' when smoking is not permitted.

They are made to look and feel similar to real cigarettes and some light up at the end to give the appearance that the person is actually smoking. However, what appears to be smoke when users puff on them is actually a vapour let off as nicotine in a liquid is heated and evaporated. The process is sometimes referred to as 'vaping'.

E-cigarettes are easily bought in shops, garages and online. Unlike tobacco products their purchase is not age-restricted by law, although the industry code of conduct says they should not be sold to minors.

E-cigs v nicotine patches

The latest study led by researchers at The University of Auckland in New Zealand is only the second controlled trial to be published which evaluates e-cigarettes, and is the first ever trial to assess whether e-cigarettes are more or less effective than nicotine patches in helping people stop smoking.

The researchers put adverts in local newspapers inviting smokers who wanted to quit to take part in a trial. The 657 recruits were divided into three groups:

  • 292 received 13 weeks’ supply of commercially available e-cigarettes, each of which contained around 16mg of nicotine
  • The same number received 13 weeks’ supply of nicotine patches
  • 73 of the smokers received placebo e-cigarettes, which contained no nicotine

Three months after the trial ended all the participants were tested to establish whether or not they had abstained completely from smoking.

Popular with quitters

Overall the researchers found that around 1 in 20 of the smokers (5.7%) had managed to stop smoking. Of all those in the trial:

  • 7.3% of those who had used e-cigarettes had successfully quit
  • 5.8% of those in the nicotine patches group had stopped smoking
  • 4.1% who had used dummy e-cigarettes had given up smoking

Co-author Hayden McRobbie from Queen Mary University of London tells us: "At six-month follow up, e-cigarettes were at least as effective as nicotine patches when used in the context of minimal support."

He says there are obvious reasons why the e-cigarette ranks higher than the patch among many people wanting to quit. "The e-cigarette does a much better job of replacing the feel, the hand-to- mouth action, the sensation of smoke in your mouth and in your throat, as well as delivering nicotine," he says.

The study is being presented at the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

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