Can e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

December 29, 2017, Medical University of South Carolina
Matthew Carpenter is the co-director of the Tobacco Research Program at the Hollings Cancer Center. Credit: Sarah Pack/Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC

As e-cigarettes become more popular, fewer people are taking up smoking traditional cigarettes. But can e-cigarettes, an electronic nicotine delivery system, help people quit smoking altogether? That was the focus of a recent study led by a Hollings Cancer Center researcher.

The study found that smokers who are willing to use e-cigarettes tend to smoke less and have increased quit attempts, said Matthew Carpenter, Ph.D., a tobacco control and addiction expert at the cancer center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

"Combustible cigarettes are the most harmful form of nicotine delivery. Alternative delivery of nicotine, through e-cigarettes, could significantly reduce harm and the risks of cancer and other diseases to smokers," he said.

In the pilot study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, Carpenter evaluated e-cigarettes in terms of usage, product preference, changes in smoking behaviors and nicotine exposure. Sixty-eight smokers were evaluated: 46 were randomized to use e-cigarettes however they wished, and 22 were randomized to a control group.

Those in the e-cigarette group were given a device with either high or low doses of nicotine. Everyone was followed over a period of four months. The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in November and is one of the few randomized studies in the U.S. to examine the effects of e-cigarettes and quit attempts.

Results showed that when smokers were given e-cigarettes without any accompanying instructions or requirements for use, uptake was strong, and many participants went on to purchase their own e-cigarettes. This suggests that e-cigarettes might give smokers a suitable alternative to combustible cigarettes. Those who used e-cigarettes smoked less and were more likely to quit smoking, as compared to those in the .

"The results are consistent with trials done outside the U.S.," Carpenter said. "Many people rated the e-cigarettes similar to their usual product, which further suggests that these products might promote switching. Anything that gets smokers off combustible cigarettes is a good thing."

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Of the two models used in the study, the more powerful device, with a higher dose of nicotine, showed stronger outcomes. People using e-cigarettes throughout the study smoked an average of 37 percent fewer cigarettes, showing a positive effect when making the switch and potentially serving as a tool to help smokers quit.

That's good news for Carpenter and his colleagues at the Hollings Cancer Center. Smoking is the leading cause of cancer and has a negative impact on the effectiveness of cancer treatments. People who quit smoking, regardless of their ages, have substantial gains in life expectancy compared with those who continue to smoke.

Carpenter cautions that while e-cigarettes may help people smoke less or even quit, they are not for everyone. "It is important to protect non-smokers, particularly adolescents and young adults, from starting any nicotine-containing product. This is something we need to really guard against."

E-cigarettes are sometimes seen as a gateway to conventional cigarettes, the most harmful form of . Studies have shown that e-cigarettes offer significantly less exposure to harmful toxicants, as compared to traditional cigarettes. "We know e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes, but that doesn't mean e-cigarettes are completely safe." says Carpenter.

More than 1,500 varieties of e-cigarettes are now available, including different looks, high-tech power settings and many flavors, which can make them more appealing to kids. Newer devices can be customized in many ways that will draw in more , but that means they also can entice kids, he said.

"We've gotten very good at the public health messaging of conventional smoking and prevention efforts for adolescents, but now kids see a new technology-based product that is supposedly safer, flavored and isn't a cigarette. These are all these things that raise our alarm bells for adolescents, and, in fact, e-cigarettes are more popular than conventional cigarettes among youth."

E-cigarettes were only recently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Largely manufactured overseas, the quality control process varies, he says. Without enough information to answer the long-term public health issues of e-cigarettes, researchers like Carpenter are aware of the importance of further studies on the latest tobacco trends. Combustible cigarettes have been around for many decades. E-cigarettes have not, and the science has a lot of questions left to answer, he said.

Explore further: Health warnings on cigarettes could deter young people

More information: Matthew J. Carpenter et al, A Naturalistic, Randomized Pilot Trial of E-Cigarettes: Uptake, Exposure, and Behavioral Effects, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention (2017). DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-17-0460

Related Stories

Health warnings on cigarettes could deter young people

December 11, 2017
Young people are less likely to try cigarettes with the printed health warning 'Smoking kills' on each stick than standard cigarettes, according to a new study by Cancer Research UK published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

E-cigarettes are more likely to be used by alcohol drinkers and former cigarette smokers

November 14, 2017
Electronic cigarettes are more frequently used by people who recently quit smoking and alcohol drinkers, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2017, a premier ...

Nearly two-thirds of smokers also use E-cigarettes: CDC

October 31, 2016
(HealthDay)—Many American adults who use electronic cigarettes also smoke tobacco cigarettes, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey reveals.

E-cigarettes safer than smoking, says long-term study

February 6, 2017
E-cigarettes are less toxic and safer to use compared to conventional cigarettes, according to research published in Annals of Internal Medicine today (Monday).

Progressively reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes may not lead smokers to quit

July 22, 2015
The US Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in 2009, permits the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set standards for cigarette nicotine content. The FDA is accordingly supporting research into ...

E-cigarettes popular among smokers with existing illnesses

February 21, 2017
In the U.S. more than 16 million people with smoking-related illnesses continue to use cigarettes. According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, current and former smokers who suffer from disease ...

Recommended for you

It's not just for kids—even adults appear to benefit from a regular bedtime

September 21, 2018
Sufficient sleep has been proven to help keep the body healthy and the mind sharp. But it's not just an issue of logging at least seven hours of Z's.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

Time to ban the sale of energy drinks to children, says senior doctor

September 19, 2018
It's time to bring in laws to ban the sale of caffeinated energy drinks to children and young people in England to tackle the twin epidemics of obesity and mental health problems, argues Professor Russell Viner, President ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eikka
not rated yet Jan 02, 2018
The question is, how harmful is nicotine itself? If the delivery method is reasonably safe, and the kids are going to do it anyways, is there really an issue?

If the only problem of addiction is the addiction itself, is it a problem?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.