Study: E-cigs more effective than patches, gum for quitting cigarettes

Three studies came out in one day about e-cigarettes, two very, very negative and the third one with positive news.

It sort of sums up the mixed bag that are e-cigs, and sums up the quandary about them.

First, the good news. A recent study by Queen Mary University in London, published by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that e-cigarettes are far more effective than nicotine gum or patches in getting people to quit cigarettes.

The study involved 886 smokers, half were given the option to quit using e-cigs and the other half were given the option to quit through patches, gum or other nicotine replacement therapies.

After one full year, 18 percent of the e-cig group was able to quit smoking, while just 9.9 percent of the patches and gum group quit.

Those percentages may not sound good, but it’s widely known that nicotine replacement treatments have a pretty high failure rate. Most smokers, it takes four or five tries or more to actually quit.

From a CNBC article:

Doctors have been wary of recommending people use e-cigarettes as a way to wean themselves off conventional cigarettes, citing both the lack of evidence showing they work and lack of data on the long-term health effects of using the products. The new study may quell some of those concerns. However, the study is also likely to receive some pushback because it was conducted in the United Kingdom, which has embraced and even encouraged e-cigarettes as an alternative for adult smokers.

Here’s another flaw with the study, I think. The point of patches and gum is to eventually wean people off of addictive nicotine. However, that’s not how very many people really use e-cigs. They remain addicted to the nicotine, and in my opinion, as long as they remain addicted, they remain at risk at falling back onto cigarettes.

From the same article:

“While e-cigarettes are ‘safer’ than traditional cigarettes, they are not without risks,” Boston University professors Belinda Borrelli and George O’Connor said in a statement.

They also pointed to the finding that at the one-year mark, 80 percent of people in the e-cigarette group were still using the devices. So while people stopped smoking cigarettes, they were still using e-cigarettes. The study’s authors also noted this finding, saying it “can be seen as problematic if e-cigarette use for a year signals ongoing long-term use, which may pose as-yet unknown health risks.”

Huge numbers of teens using the products — particularly one brand, Juul — have soured perceptions about e-cigarettes in the U.S. Even Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has championed the devices as a way to help adult smokers, says the industry is at a tipping point.

That final paragraph about Juuls explains the condundrum about e-cigarettes. While they appear to have a very valid and genuine value in helping some people quit smoking, the down side is their use among teens has exploded in the past five years … and these are kids who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives. They’re not using e-cigs to get off cigarettes, they’re using them to get addicted to nicotine to begin with.

The FDA has started talking tough about e-cigs the past couple of months, even going so far as saying it might just outright ban e-cigs. If 18 percent of the people who try e-cigs to get off cigarettes are successful, I think that’d be a terrible step in the wrong direction.

But, they gotta stop the teen epidemic of vaping. If that means banning fruity e-cig flavours, so be it. I personally would like to see e-cig marketing more strictly regulated. I liked the idea the FDA came up with a few weeks ago (and quickly dropped, unfortunately), of only allowing e-cig sales in tobacco shops, where you have to show an ID just to walk into the door. The FDA came up with some odd idea of only allowing e-cig sales in adult areas … but still allowing them to be sold in convenience stores. How could that even work?

Anyway, an interesting study showing the other side of the e-cig debate and showing that it’s not a black and white issue.

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