Do E-Cigarettes Help to Stop Smoking?
The recent rise in e-cigarette use among US adult smokers is associated with a significant increase in smoking cessation, finds a study published in The BMJ. The study, based on the largest representative sample of e-cigarette users to date, provides a strong case that e-cigarettes have helped to increase smoking cessation at the population level.
Currently, the scientific community is divided over whether e-cigarettes are an aid to quitting smoking. Some suggest that e-cigarettes will have a positive impact on smoking rates by acting as a nicotine replacement therapy, while others argue that they could reduce the urgency to quit smoking. So a team of researchers, led by Professor Shu-Hong Zhu at the University of California, set out to examine whether the increase in use of e-cigarettes in the USA, was associated with a change in overall smoking cessation rate at the population level.
They base their findings on five population surveys dating from 2001 to 2015. E-cigarette users were identified from the most recent survey (2014-15) and smoking cessation rates were obtained from those who reported smoking cigarettes 12 months before the survey. Rates from this survey were then compared to four earlier surveys. Of 161,054 respondents to the 2014-15 survey, 22,548 were current smokers and 2,136 recent quitters. Among them, 38.2% of current smokers and 49.3% of recent quitters had tried e-cigarettes.
The results show that e-cigarette users were more likely than non-users to make a quit attempt (65% v 40%) and more likely to succeed in quitting for at least 3 months (8.2% v 4.8%). The overall population quit rate for 2014-15 was significantly higher (from 4.5% to 5.6%) than that for 2010-11, and higher than those for all other survey years.
This study has certain limitations, which is common for population surveys. For example, survey questions were limited, which prevented detailed analysis of the quitting process and lack of information on the type of e-cigarette product used. The main strength is use of the largest representative sample of e-cigarette users among the US population.
Nevertheless, the study has two key findings. First, in 2014-15, e-cigarette users attempted to quit cigarette smoking and succeeded in quitting smoking at higher rates than non-users. Second, the overall smoking cessation rate in 2014-15 increased significantly from that of 2010-11.
Original publication: DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j3262