Recent research, the findings of which were made known at the European Respiratory Society, suggests that electronic cigarettes are as effective, if not more effective as nicotine patches in aiding smokers to quit the habit. The study found that the electronic devices as well as patches helped roughly an equal number of smokers to quit, but more smokers had reduced smoking with e-cigarettes.
Though the research showed that electronic cigarettes help people lower their smoking, opinions are split regarding the efficacy of the device and there have been demands to test its safety for use over longer periods of time. E-cigarettes which heat a nicotine containing smoking liquid to generate a vapour, have become increasingly popular as an alternative to tobacco smoking. In addition to giving the user a nicotine induced high, the use of e-cigarettes closely resembles the motions of smoking leading to the widespread belief that the device helps people in their efforts to quit.
The research on 657 people, carried out by a team from New Zealand’s University of Auckland, held clinical trial to compare electronic cigarettes with nicotine patches. According to the findings which were published in the Lancet, 7.3% of e-cigarette users quit as compared to 5.8% of those using patches. However the limited number of participants in the trials was inadequate to ascertain with reasonable certainty which was the better option.
After a period of six months, 57% of electronic cigarette users had reduced their smoking by 50% as compared to 41% of patch users. According to University of Auckland’s Prof Chris Bullen, the differences between patches and e-cigarettes was not significant as far as quitting the smoking habit is concerned but as far as helping those unable to quit in reducing smoking is concerned, e-cigarettes performed far better. He also found that the participants were more enthusiastic about using e-cigarettes.
Prof Chris Bullen acknowledged the need for long term trials to test the potential of e-cigarettes as an effective aid for smoking cessation. Such long term testing assumes more importance considering the huge popularity of e-cigarettes and inconsistency and uncertainty in their regulation. Most countries of the world are contemplating regulating e-cigarettes considering their increasing popularity. The UK and EU are moving towards regulation of e-cigarettes as medicines.
Opinions are also polarised on the issue of whether e-cigarettes help quit smoking or whether they induce people to take up the habit. Director Prof Peter Hajek, attached to the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit of Queen Mary University at London opines that the study is pioneering and establishes that e-cigarettes at least produce results equivalent to nicotine patches.
To many smokers, the device is more appealing than patches and is easily available without the restrictions applicable to medicines (which include other nicotine replacement therapies) or the costs of health professionals. These features indicate that e-cigarettes can improve the chances of giving up smoking and can reduce the costs of quitting. Simultaneously, the burden of smoking on public health services will be substantially reduced.
However, Prof Hajek stressed the need for long time studies into the effects of extended e-cigarette use.