Do E-Cigarettes Really Work? Smokers More Likely to Quit with Vaporized Nicotine

First Posted: May 17, 2013 10:55 AM EDT

Electronic cigarettes may be the new craze when it comes to quitting your smoking addiction, but do they really work?

According to a recent study, one-third of smokers looking to quit used e-cigarettes. These smokers were less likely to succeed than those who did not use e-cigarettes: About 21 percent of e-cigarette users were tobacco-free after seven months, compared with 31 percent of those who didn't use e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver vaporized nicotine, but they don't contain tobacco or don't produce smoke. Although they might seem like a good nicotine replacement method among smokers who wish to quit, little is known about their safety in the long-term, including how well they might work in helping people to quit, according to the researchers.

The high rate of e-cigarette use seen among study participants shows the importance of addressing these questions about these devices, the researchers said.

As e-cigarettes may help people quit or cut down on the real thing, scientists note that more clinical trials will be needed in order to determine whether this is true, according to study researcher Katrina Vickerman, a program evaluator at Alere Wellbeing

The researchers looked at about 2,500 people who called smoking cessation hotlines, and followed up with them seven months later. Among the participants, 30 percent reported using e-cigarettes at some point during the seven-month study, and about 9 percent were frequently using them at the time of the follow-up.

Vickerman said there could be many factors that may affect a person's decision to try e-cigarettes.

"It may be that callers who had struggled to quit in the past were more likely to try e-cigarettes as a new method to help them quit," she said. "These callers may have had a more difficult time quitting, regardless of their e-cigarette use."

The study found that the most commonly reported reason for using e-cigarettes was to quit or cut down on tobacco, suggesting that many smokers believe that switching to e-cigarettes may help them quit.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, hasn't endorsed e-cigarettes as smoking-cessation aides, and in 2010, the agency sent warning letters to companies who marketed e-cigarettes as such.

Still, the use of the device seems to be growing. And statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about one in five adult cigarette smokers were using electronic cigarettes by 2011, which is a dramatic increase from the one in 10 seen in 2010.

The new study was published online May 8 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

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