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E-cigarettes help you quit – but may not keep you alive

Big smoking study shows vapes aren't just hot air

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A five-year study by University College London suggests that e-cigarettes may, in fact, help people quit.

Between 2009 and 2014, the researchers at UCL, with funding from Cancer Research UK, surveyed more than 5,800 smokers who'd tried to quit without either prescription medications or professional support.

The sample size meant the researchers were able to adjust for a large number of factors: “age, nicotine dependence, previous quit attempts, and whether was gradual or abrupt”, UCL says in its announcement.

The finding? While only one-in-five e-cigarette users successfully quit the coffin-nails, that makes them 60 per cent more likely to succeed than those trying to quit cold turkey or using nicotine patches or gum.

As Neal Benowitz of the University of California told Science Magazine, the report is important because most of the discussion of e-cigs as a quit tool has been anecdotal. Benowitz had previously taken part in a study that suggested their impact was negligible, but that was a survey of all smokers, whereas UCL focussed on those who wanted to quit.

Cancer Research UK quotes study leader Robert West, a UCL psychologist, debunking the idea that e-cigs are as bad as the “real thing” because they lead to acceptance of smoking:

“Some public health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of e-cigarettes could 're-normalise' smoking. However, we are tracking this very closely and see no evidence of it. Smoking rates in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing and regular e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible”, he says here.

West says the Smoking Toolkit Study data will be tracked in the future to see how likely e-cig users are to return to tobacco after having quit, and he also said the combination of counselling plus prescription quit aids remains the best way to quit.

Even if the user never gives up the e-cigarette, West echoes what many already believe about “vapes”: “It is not clear whether long-term use of e-cigarettes carries health risks but from what is known about the contents of the vapour these will be much less than from smoking”, he said. ®

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