E-cigarettes 'better than patches' for smoking cessation

Electronic cigarettes are a more effective smoking cessation aid than NRT patches or gums, but NHS services remain the best option for patients, research suggests.

The popularity of e-cigarettes is soaring in the UK (Photo: iStock)
The popularity of e-cigarettes is soaring in the UK (Photo: iStock)

A survey found smokers attempting to quit without medical help were 60% more likely to succeed if they used e-cigarettes than other NRT products or willpower alone.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) said the study, funded by Cancer Research UK, showed e-cigarettes could help to reduce smoking rates, but NHS stop-smoking services remained the most effective aid to quitting.

The number of people using e-cigarettes in the UK has tripled since 2012 and now stands at 2.1m, according to the charity Action on Smoking and Health. Some have expressed concern that the products could ‘renormalise’ smoking.

GPs at the Scottish LMCs conference in March called on the government to ban e-cigarettes in enclosed public places, describing the products as ‘addictive, unlicensed and unregulated’. In response, the Scottish government agreed to introduce stronger regulation.

But UCL researchers found ‘no evidence’ of e-cigarettes renormalising smoking behaviour. They said use of e-cigarettes among never-smokers was ‘negligible’.

63% higher quit rate

Their study surveyed 5,863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had tried to quit without prescribed smoking aids or NHS support.

One in five who used e-cigarettes reported having successfully quit by the end of the survey. This was 63% higher than those who used OTC NRT products, such as patches and gums, and 61% higher than those using no aids. The analysis accounted for factors such as levels of nicotine dependence and previous attempts to quit smoking.

Senior author Professor Robert West from UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health said: ‘E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking.

‘However, we should also recognise that the strongest evidence remains for use of NHS stop-smoking services. These almost triple a smoker’s odds of successfully quitting, compared with going it alone or relying on OTC products.’

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