Do E-Cigarettes Help People Quit Smoking? A New Study Says Yes, But They May Still Have Their Own Risks

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Proponents of vaping say that e-cigarettes are a safe and effective way to quit smoking, but some researchers have questioned the validity of this claim due to limited research. Now, however, a major new UK study says that in fact, e-cigarettes can help smokers quit. When coupled with weekly counseling, researchers concluded that e-cigarettes were more effective at getting people to quit than other nicotine delivery products — like the patch or nicotine gum, according to the study’s authors in the paper.

The quitting success rate was still pretty low overall, Jan Hoffman reported for The New York Times. Among the participants studied, 18 percent quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes, while 9.9 percent stopped smoking using traditional nicotine replacement therapies, Hoffman wrote. “This is a seminal study,” Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, chief of clinical pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, an expert in nicotine absorption who was not a part of the project, told New York Times. “It is so important to the field.” This study now provides strong evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective way to quit smoking. The year-long study showed that e-cigarettes were almost twice as successful as products like nicotine gums and patches for helping people get off cigarettes.

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E-cigarettes were almost twice as effective as the gold standard combination of nicotine replacement products,” said lead study author Peter Hajek from Queen Mary University of London in a statement, according to CNN. “Health professionals have been reluctant to recommend their use because of the lack of clear evidence from randomized controlled trials. This is now likely to change,” he said.

Sandee LaMotte wrote for CNN that, despite how important this new evidence is, U.S. health officials are still urging caution with using vaping products, since “the study’s results are not conclusive or easy to generalize.”

Moreover, some researchers are also concerned about the potential negative health effects of e-cigarette vapor. E-cigarettes or vapes work by heating up flavored solution so it can be inhaled as a vapor, which means they're not totally risk-free. “E-cigarettes have volatile organic compounds, cancer causing chemicals, and flavorings that have been linked to lung disease,” smoking cessation researcher Belinda Borelli, who directs the Center for Behavioral Science Research at Boston University, told CNN. “Let's not say e-cigarettes are a magic pill to help people quit smoking without having all of the information.” That said, many UK researchers feel that, given this new evidence, vaping products should be encouraged as a way to quit smoking among adults.

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“This study should reassure policymakers and health professionals — mainly beyond the UK — who have until now been hesitant to recommend e-cigarettes for smoking cessation on the basis that there was a lack of high-quality trial evidence," Jamie Brown, deputy director of the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group at University College London, told LaMotte for CNN.

While the new research provides compelling new evidence that the method is effective when it comes to helping people quit smoking, more research is needed to better understand how vaping potentially affects your overall health.