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As health experts continue to scrutinize the viability of e-cigarettes as a safe approach to smoking cessation, a new study funded by top cancer researchers in the UK has determined that vaping can be “more effective” than patches, gum and other nicotine replacement products for quitting.
That’s good news for the estimated 21.5 million adult smokers — over half of all adult smokers in the US — who will attempt to quit smoking this year, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study is considered the first to pit the success rate of e-cigs against conventional treatments, including nicotine patches, chewing gum, nasal or mouth spray and inhalators, which have been marketed for decades as the only practicable tool to help smokers quit — that is, until e-cigarettes were popularized.
While these time-tested methods do work, especially in tandem with behavior behavioral therapy, they’ve nonetheless held a weak reputation as less than 3 million adult smokers each year can say they successfully quit.
The nicotine vaporizer, or electronic cigarette, was invented in the early 2000s, but it would take another decade or so before it exploded on the market. Since then, its safety has been called into question as some vaping products were implicated in a rash of hospitalizations of patients with vaping-associated lung injuries, including or bronchiolitis obliterans — aka “popcorn lung” — notably occurring in young, healthy individuals.
Juul, the preeminent industry leader in nicotine vaping, was heavily implicated in these cases, and publicly answered for its role in the marketing of e-cigarettes to teenagers. However, researchers would later learn that the source of the illness could be “strongly linked” to certain THC-containing vaping products — not nicotine. Research has continued on the long-term health effects of all forms of vaporizing devices.
To find out if the promise of e-cigarettes was legit, researchers at the Queen Mary University of London enlisted 135 smokers who were struggling to quit through conventional methods, then randomly prescribed an eight-week supply of either an e-cigarette starter pack or another various nicotine replacement of the users’ choice.
After six months — four months beyond the date of their initial free supply — 27% of participants in the e-cigarette group had reduced their smoking habit by at least half, and another 19% had successfully quit altogether (confirmed with a carbon monoxide breathalyzer reading). Compare that to the mere 3% in the control group who quit cigarettes and 6% who managed to cut back.
The findings were published in the Addiction on Wednesday.
“This study shows e-cigarettes can be a very effective tool for people who want to stop smoking, including those who’ve tried to quit before. And research so far shows that vaping is far less harmful than smoking,” said Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK, which backed the study, in a statement.
“But e-cigarettes aren’t risk-free,” she warned. “And we don’t yet know their long-term effects, so people who have never smoked shouldn’t use them.”
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