Conducted by researchers at University College London and published in the journal Addiction, the study followed 5,863 smokers of traditional cigarettes who had attempted to quit (without the help of prescription medication or counseling) between 2009 and 2014. Some of the subjects used e-cigs, some used over-the-counter nicotine options like gum or patches, and some went cold-turkey. The researchers found that 20% of those who used e-cigarettes successfully quit smoking cigarettes — a rate that was 60% higher than the other two methods.
This study appears to answer what had been, for years, an open question about the virtues of e-cigarettes. Admittedly, it makes perfect sense: By mimicking the physical action of smoking while providing a nicotine hit, e-cigs take away most of the hurdles faced by those trying to quit.
While this finding contradicts other recent research that suggests electronic cigarettes are not effective at helping people quit, it's important to note that this new study focused solely on folks who had turned to e-cigs for just that purpose: quitting tobacco. In contrast, the previous research relied on a random sample of smokers, who were simply asked whether or not they used e-cigarettes. After all, those who weren't actively trying to quit cigarettes probably wouldn't be very likely to quit "by accident," just by smoking an e-cig.
Of course, opponents of e-cigarettes would be correct to point out that using these products still involves inhaling chemicals that could potentially be harmful. Yes, e-cigs have nicotine, which, while largely harmless itself, is (arguably) addictive. Some studies have shown that the solvents in e-cigarettes can decompose during the "smoking" process into formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.
And, at least for the moment, the e-cig business is still a bit of a Wild-West scenario, with only minimal regulation on what actually goes into the product — although the FDA is poised to step in and take the reigns. Still, all things considered, if you're going to be smoking something, e-cigs are probably a good option. From our perspective, anything that helps people stop puffing on tobacco is a good thing.