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Sep 10, 2013

E-Cigarettes: Helping Smokers Quit?

Study finds e-cigarettes are more effective than patches in helping smokers kick the habit for good.

Since being introduced to the U.S. market in 2007, electronic cigarettes have sparked their share of controversy. Experts worry about the possible health risks associated with e-cigarettes and their impact on smoking rates. We don’t know much about the long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes and the mistaken impression that e-cigarettes are “safe” could actually encourage more people to take up the habit and discourage current smokers from quitting. But a recent study suggests e-cigarettes could be beneficial, serving as a better smoking cessation tool than the patch.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat up liquid nicotine into a vapor, which smokers inhale and exhale. Unlike regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco—the single greatest cause of preventable death globally, according to the World Health Organization. Although this doesn’t mean e-cigarettes are safe, it’s possible they could serve their purpose in helping people quit smoking.

Recently published in The Lancet, this first-of-its-kind study compared the use of e-cigarettes vs. nicotine patches in helping more than 650 New Zealand smokers kick the habit. At the start of the study, participants were assigned to nicotine e-cigarettes (16 milligrams of nicotine), daily nicotine patches (21mg nicotine per patch), or nicotine-free e-cigarettes. After following subjects for six months, researchers used breath analysis to identify which individuals were able to quit smoking by the end of the study period.

After analysis, researchers found that nicotine e-cigarettes were the most effective smoking cessation tool, helping 7.3% of the nicotine e-cigarette users successfully quit smoking. In comparison, only 5.8% of patch-users and 4.1% of nicotine-free e-cigarette users were able to quit by the end of the study. However, these results were not considered statistically significant, so additional research is needed to accurately compare e-cigarettes and nicotine patches as smoking cessation tools.

Although we have plenty to learn about the pros and cons of e-cigarette use, these findings are intriguing, to say the least. First viewed as a threat to smoking cessation initiatives, e-cigarettes could actually serve as an effective way to help smokers quit for good. Switching from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes may help fight cravings and decrease consumption of cigarettes without causing withdrawal symptoms. Compared to nicotine patches, they also allow smokers to still engage in the physical act of “smoking” during the quitting process. Although the goal is to help current smokers kick the habit altogether, e-cigarettes could serve as a useful tool throughout that process and ultimately help save millions of lives by reducing smoking rates.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does smoking increase risk for heart disease?

  • Smoking causes plaque build up in the arteries, which reduces the flow of blood to the heart and body, increasing blood pressure. Over time, this can put an extreme strain on the heart and other parts of the body.
  • Why is it so hard to quit smoking?

  • According to QuitNet.com, smokers face both a physical addiction and a psychological addiction. The physical addiction comes from the way nicotine acts on the brain cells to create a feeling of pleasure and alertness. Unfortunately, your body clears away the nicotine in about 30 minutes, leaving you tired, jittery—and craving another cigarette.

    The psychological addiction comes from both habits that are hard to break and the positive feelings some people associate with smoking. For example, if you smoke a cigarette every morning when you first wake up, your brain comes to associate waking up with smoking, and you will automatically crave a cigarette first thing in the morning. This habit is made even stronger by the physical pleasure you feel when nicotine hits your brain. The other part of psychological addiction is the way smoking makes some people feel about themselves: cool, hip, relaxed. Getting through certain social situations without a cigarette can be difficult.

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