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New Study Suggests Sensory Experience Makes Vaping More Effective at Helping Smokers Quit

When talking about smoking cessation, most people only mention nicotine dependence, but the sensory experience associated with cigarette smoking also plays a huge part in keeping smokers hooked. A recent study shows that it’s this capacity to reproduce the sensory experience that makes vaping more effective than traditional smoking cessation therapies.

A joint team of researchers from City University of New York, Cornell University, and COEHAR (Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction) set out to analyze the sensory experiences of electronic cigarette users and how important they are to people trying to quit smoking and prevent relapsing. To do this, they recruited a nonrandom purposive sample of 156  who failed to quit combustible tobacco cigarettes with FDA approved medication, but succeeded with the help of electronic cigarettes.

The 156 US vapers were recruited through the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association(CASAA) Facebook page and asked to complete an online cross-sectional survey to assess sensory experiences and smoking cues associated with e-cigarette use.

Participants reported “feeling the vapor in their throats, windpipes, noses, lungs, and on their tongues”, an “enjoyment of their e-cigarette, including tasting, smelling, and seeing the vapor and touching the device”, as well as a reduction nicotine craving. On average, women had greater craving reduction than men, and younger vapers (18-34 years old) rated e-cigarettes as being more pleasant, compared to participants over 45.

Among all participants, 84 percent reported that the sensation of vapor was relevant in quitting smoking, while 91% believe that the perceptions associated with the use of e-cigarettes contributed to their successful smoking cessation.

“The sensory experiences given by electronic cigarettes can help those who are unable to quit smoking with classic anti-smoking drugs” explains Prof. Riccardo Polosa, Founder of the Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction (CoEHAR). “Smokers may prefer substitute products with characteristics similar to the act of smoking rather than being medicalized”.

It’s worth mentioning that the study does have quite a few limitations. First of all, the sample of participants was on the small side, and they were recruited through CASAA, an association that fights for vapers’ rights, so it’s not crazy to assume that respondents were biased towards electronic cigarettes. Then there was the self-reporting method and the cross-sectional nature of the survey, which aren’t exactly the golden standard in scientific research. The authors themselves admitted these limitations, but that doesn’t mean sensory experience can be neglected when analyzing the chances of successful smoking cessation.

“It is clear that the sample represents people satisfied with this change,” professor Pasquale Caponnetto from the University of Catania explains. “However, within a process of seeking treatments aimed at detaching people from harmful substances that create addiction, we cannot neglect the impact that sensory experience can have. They are- in fact- capable of modifying rooted cognitive, behavioral, and even emotional relational schemes.”

The authors of the study concluded that for people who can’t successfully quit smoking with the help of FDA-approved methods, electronic cigarettes can prove a viable alternative, because of the sensory experiences they are able to reproduce.

Photo: Ruben Bagues/Unsplash

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