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E-cigarettes hailed ‘as effective’ as patches

Electronic cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit the habit, a study involving more than 650 smokers has found.

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Dr Hayden McRobbie who works in the Tobacco Dependence Research Unity at Queen Mary University of London, a co-author on the study, said “the results were encouraging for smokers who want to try different methods to help them quit”.

He explained: “We recruited 657 smokers who wanted to quit smoking and randomly allocated them to one of three groups; 289 received e-cigarettes containing nicotine, 295 received nicotine patches, and then a small number received the placebo e-cigarettes which contained no nicotine. Participants used the products for 13 weeks and were followed up to see whether they had managed to stay abstinent from cigarettes.

"At six-month follow up, e-cigarettes were at least as effective as nicotine patches, but participants were more enthusiastic about recommending the e-cigarettes to others, compared with the patch.

“There are some obvious reasons why this might be the case. The e-cigarette does a much better job of replacing some of the behavioural aspects of smoking that many people miss when they quit (e.g. the hand-to-mouth action and the sensation of smoke in your mouth and in your throat), as well as delivering nicotine.”

The findings, published in the Lancet, revealed 7.3 per cent of those who had used e-cigarettes had stopped smoking and 5.8 per cent in the nicotine patches group had successfully quit.

Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit* at Queen Mary, published a linked commentary about the study in the Lancet. He said e-cigarettes tended to be “more attractive than patches to many smokers” and could also be accessed more readily in most countries “without the restrictions around medicines that apply to nicotine replacement therapy or the costly involvement of health professionals”.

“These advantages suggest even with modest effects,  e-cigarettes have the potential to increase rates of smoking cessation and reduce costs to quitters and to health services.”

The trial, led by Associate Professor Chris Bullen at the University of Auckland, also found that among the participants who were not able to quit after six months, cigarette consumption was markedly reduced in the e-cigarettes group compared to the patches and placebo groups. More than half the people using e-cigarettes had reduced their daily consumption of cigarettes by at least half after six months compared with just over two fifths of the patches group.

Professor Bullen 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, as evidenced by the far greater proportion of people in both the e-cigarette groups who said they’d recommend them to family or friends, compared to patches.”

In concluding his article, Professor Hajek wrote: “In terms of the practical implications of the results of the study by Bullen and colleagues, stop-smoking services which distribute nicotine replacement therapy with minimum support now have the cheaper alternative to consider, and health professionals will now hopefully feel easier about recommending e-cigarettes to smokers or at least condoning their use.”


* The Tobacco Dependence Research Unit is based at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London.

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