Is there anything better than finding an easier way around something difficult? It's why delivery services exist, why we'd rather text than call, and why smokers who want to quit may turn to nicotine gum, the patch, or, more and more lately, e-cigarettes.
But, despite the belief that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, there's mounting evidence that suggests otherwise. This week, reportedly, the 18th study linking e-cigarette use to a reduced chance of successfully quitting was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
The study, conducted with funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, consisted of 1,357 recently hospitalized smokers who planned to try quitting upon their discharge. They were split into two groups, where one was given treatment to help quit and the other only received recommendations and advice on how to quit. The study authors checked in with the participants one month and three months after they left the hospital to see if they were using e-cigarettes to support their quitting efforts. At the three-month mark, 28% of participants reported using an e-cigarette.
Six months after the participants left the hospital, the researchers assessed how successful they were, and whether e-cigarettes really helped the people who tried them. Of those who used e-cigarettes, about 10% successfully quit. Meanwhile, about 26% of participants who didn't use e-cigarettes at all were able to quit. So, the researchers concluded, e-cigarette users appeared to have a harder time quitting than nonusers. Unfortunately, this is hardly the final word on e-cigs.
Just this past summer, a study published in the BMJ offered conflicting findings. The study suggested that smokers who used e-cigarettes not only tried to quit more often but were successful at quitting more often than nonusers. On the other hand, some researchers have expressed concerns that e-cigarettes actually prolong smokers' tobacco use rather than help ease them out of the habit.
In other words, the medical community's stance on e-cigs as a quitting aid is complicated. And, although this most recent study adds to the body of research suggesting that they aren't particularly effective, it was left up to the participants to decide whether they tried e-cigarettes or not. As study author Nancy Rigotti, MD, noted in a statement, "regulatory challenges" make it difficult to conduct a more randomized, controlled study of the effects of e-cigs. So, the waters remain muddy.
And that's where researchers are in agreement: More research needs to be done to understand e-cigarettes' long-term effects, their use as a quitting aid, and whether they pose any other risks to users' health. For the moment, you probably aren't worse off switching from regular cigarettes to e-cigs if you want to quit, but they might not be the silver bullet you're hoping for.