- The current status of the use of e-cigarettes for quitting cigarette smoking is unclear.
- Researchers from Britain suggest that e-cigarettes may have actually helped numerous individuals kick the smoking habit.
- Other researchers indicate that e-cigarettes are associated with minor side effects when used over a period of two years. The long-term safety of the e-cigarettes is, however, not known.
Researchers suggest that the increased use
of e-cigarettes over the period between 2006 and 2015 has been accompanied by
an increased number of people quitting cigarette smoking. Their research was
published in the British
Tobacco smoking kills half of all those who indulge in smoking. An additional 600,000 non-smokers also die from the effects of second-hand smoke. Smoking has therefore been categorized as the world's biggest preventable killer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted a death toll of one billion due to tobacco smoking by the end of the century. As of 2014, cigarettes were smoked by over one billion people, which account for nearly 20% of the world's population.
E-cigarettes are devices that allow users to inhale an aerosol (vapor) containing nicotine or other substances just as they would use a cigarette. Electronic cigarettes come in the form of e-pens, e-pipes, e-hookah and e-cigars and are known collectively as ENDS - electronic nicotine delivery systems. They contain a liquid consisting of nicotine, a base like propylene glycol, and flavoring and coloring agents. Since they are battery operated, they use a heating element to heat liquid from a refillable cartridge, releasing a chemical-filled aerosol.
The researchers found that during this period:
- There was an overall increase in the number of people who succeeded in quitting smoking
- There was a substantial increase in the number of people who used e-cigarettes during this period, from a negligible use in 2006 to 21.3% at the end of the study
- The number of people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking increased from a negligible number in 2006 to 35% in early 2015
- The use of nicotine replacement therapy reduced slowly
The team, led by Prof Robert West at UCL, said "The increased prevalence of e-cigarettes in England does not appear to have been associated with a detectable change in attempts to stop smoking. However, the increase in e-cigarette use has been associated with an increase in success of quit attempts."
Dr. John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham said "This significant year-on-year fall indicates that something in UK tobacco control policy is working, and successful quitting through substitution with e-cigarettes is one likely major contributor."
Prof Linda Bauld, of Cancer Research UK, said "The British public have voted with their feet and are choosing to use e-cigarettes. This is a positive choice, and we should promote it."
The safety of e-cigarettes has been questioned. Though they may not be as harmful as conventional cigarettes, they still contain chemicals that can be harmful. In addition, younger individuals and people who may otherwise avoid smoking may get hooked on to them presuming that they are completely safe. Some people use both conventional as well as e-cigarettes.
In a separate scientific analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers looked at the side-effects of e-cigarettes and found irritation of the throat and mouth are the most common side effects. The study however evaluated the side effects only over a period of two years of using the e-cigarettes.
"We are encouraged to find many studies are now under way, particularly as electronic cigarettes are an evolving technology," said Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, one member of the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group.
"In terms of quitting, these can't provide the same information we get from randomized controlled trials, but they contribute further information on the side-effects of using electronic cigarettes to quit smoking. None detected any serious side-effects, but longer term data are needed." he added.
E-cigarettes are definitely a better alternative for smokers than traditional tobacco. But the debate continues whether e-cigarettes are better than other aids like nicotine patch and gum, for quitting smoking.
In the US, sales of e-cigarettes have hit an estimated $3.5 billion. Depending on the number of charges it provides, an e-cigarette can cost anywhere from $10 to $120.
Definite answers about the ability of e-cigarettes to help in quitting smoking and their safety can only be obtained through well-designed and long-term studies.
- Cigarette Consumption - (http://www.tobaccoatlas.org/topic/cigarette-use-globally/)
- E-cigarettes and Lung Health - (http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/e-cigarettes-and-lung-health.html)
- Beard E, West R, Michie S. Association between electronic cigarette use and changes in quit attempts, success of quit attempts, use of smoking cessation pharmacotherapy, and use of stop smoking services in England: time series analysis of population trends. BMJ 2016;354:i4645
- Hartmann-Boyce J, McRobbie H, Bullen C, Begh R, Stead LF, Hajek P. Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD010216. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010216.pub3