A new observational study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests that electronic cigarettes may have helped as many as 18,000 people in England to quit smoking in 2015.
Researchers at University College London wanted to know if the prevalence of electronic cigarette use among active smokers – particularly among those trying to quit – was somehow linked with a smoker’s likelihood to successfully kick the habit. The looked at data on nearly 80,000 smokers who participated in the UK’s Smoking Toolkit Study from 2006 to 2015. They found that in the last quarter of 2006, 10.6% of quit attempts were successful, but by the end of 2015 the success rate had jumped significantly to 18.5%. At the same time, the proportion of smokers who also used e-cigarettes went from virtually zero to 21.3%.
But perhaps the study’s most important finding was that e-cigarette use was even more popular among smokers trying to quit, with 35% of them using electronic cigarettes in 2015. This coincided with a significant drop in the use of traditional nicotine replacement therapies, like nicotine patches and gum. And while study authors did not find any conclusive links between vaping and smoking cessation attempts, their calculations showed that “for every 1% increase in e-cigarette use, the success of quit attempts increased by 0.098%,” and that “for every 1% increase in vaping among smokers trying to quit, the success rate of quit attempts rose by 0.058%.”
This was an observational study and therefore cannot prove direct cause and effect, but the results suggest that 54,288 English smokers who quit last year have e-cigarettes to thank. Statistics show that roughly two-thirds of them can be expected to relapse to smoking, but that still leaves 18,000 people who were able to successfully quit for the long term.
“The increased prevalence of e-cigarettes in England does not appear to have been associated with a detectable change in attempts to stop smoking,” lead author Prof. Roberst West said. “However, the increase in e-cigarette use has been associated with an increase in success of quit attempts.”
“England is sometimes singled out as being too positive in its attitude to e-cigarettes. These data suggest that our relatively liberal regulation of e-cigarettes is probably justified,” West added.
John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, also agrees that the results of this study suggest that e-cigarettes could contribute to lowering smoking rates. “This significant year-on-year fall indicates that something in UK tobacco control policy is working, and successful quitting through substitution with e-cigarettes is one likely major contributor,” he wrote in the British Medical Journal.
Alison Cox, director of prevention at Cancer Research UK said that even though she believes Stop Smoking Services are still the most effective way to give up smoking, “e-cigarettes can play a role in helping people quit and the evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco. This study shows the positive impact they’ve had on helping people give up the deadly addiction.”
“We’ll continue to fund research into e-cigarettes to build our understanding, and encourage people to combine the most popular method with the most effective – Stop Smoking Services. But this study reassures us of the promise these products have,” Cox added.
It would be nice to see such support for vaping from scientists in the United States and agencies like the FDA, but that’s probably never going to happen. Despite mounting evidence of their effectiveness as smoking cessation aids and lack of serious health side effects, they are treated the same or even worse than tobacco cigarettes. But rest assured, it’s all for the benefit of public health…