This is not one of those generic posts where the author rants about the miraculous properties of electronic cigarettes as smoking cessation devices, without citing any kind of hard evidence. I’m just going to share some interesting data collected in the last few years that points out the usefulness of e-cigarettes in quitting smoking.
Although mainstream media seems eager to promote medical and scientific studies that always focus on the negative effects of electronic cigarettes, the truth is there is some data out there that puts them in a positive light. It’s not as scarce as you might think, but the big news agencies don’t seem to interested in making it known to the general public, so I guess it’s up to obscure sites like this to carry out the task. Almost every piece of research into the effects of using electronic cigarettes on the human body suggests there is no relevant data to attest their success as smoking reduction and cessation products. I agree that more research into this field is necessary, but there is actually both scientific and social information available on the effectiveness of e-cigs in quitting smoking. Just to be clear, e-cigarette companies are forbidden to use smoking cessation as advertisement for their products for a reason – more data on the topic is needed – and this article isn’t a statement that electronic cigarettes can help you quit smoking. I’m merely sharing data collected from recent studies and surveys that suggest this revolutionary invention could indeed be a much needed aid in smoking cessation.
The most important research material on the effect of e-cigarettes on smoking reduction and cessation was a 6-month pilot study headed by Ricardo Polosa, from the “Centro per la Prevenzione e Cura del Tabagismo” (Center of Smoking Prevention and Cure) in Catania, Italy. It was carried out in 2011, and monitored possible modifications in smoking habits of 40 regular smokers who were unwilling to quit. Participants were invited to attend a total of five study visits: at baseline, week-4, week-8, week-12 and week-24, and product use, number of cigarettes smoked, and exhaled carbon monoxide (eCO) levels were measured at each visit. Before revealing the results of the study, it’s worth pointing out the subjects were all healthy smokers 18-60 years old, who had been smoking more than 15 cigarettes per day for the last 10 years and had no intention of quitting in the next 30 days.
Participants to the pilot test were all given a free e-cigarette kit with two rechargeable batteries, and taught how to refill the cartridges with 7.4 mg nicotine e-liquid. They were instructed to use the e-cigs freely, up to a maximum of 4 cartridges per day, as recommended by the device manufacturer. They were asked to come back at week 4 (study visit 2), week 8 (study visit 3), and week 12 (visit 4) to get a fresh supply of e-liquid cartridges. They were finally asked to return at week 24 (study visit 5) to report product use and the number of cigarettes smoked per day (from which smoking reduction and cessation was calculated). They were also asked to rate their level of satisfaction with the electronic cigarette and report any adverse effects. Given the observational nature of this study, no encouragement, motivation and reward for the smoking cessation effort were provided.
At the end of the pilot study, an overall 80% reduction in the number of cigarettes per day was observed. Out of the 40 smokers included in the test, 13 sustained 50% reduction in the number of cigarettes/day. 6 of them could be classified as sustained heavy reducers (at least 80% reduction in the number of cigarettes/day). There were also 9 quitters, 6 of which were still using the e-cigarette at the end of week 24. These findings are even more impressive when you consider none of the participants was willing to quit cigarettes when the test began.
The most frequently reported adverse effects of using electronic cigarettes were mouth irritation (20,6%), throat irritation (32,4%), and dry cough (32,4%). These were all commonly reported at the start of the study and seemed to disappear by week 24. Also, none of the serious side effects associated with common nicotine replacement therapy (depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, hunger, constipation) were reported.
Also in 2011, an online survey headed by Dr. Michael Siegel, Professor at the Department of Community Health Sciences and Boston University of Public Health, aimed to examine the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. The anonymous Internet-based, cross-sectional survey was conducted on 216 people who had purchased Blu electronic cigarettes. The survey was sent to 5,000 email address of Blu buyers, but only 222 answered ( a response rate of 4,5%). Six of them were deleted from the results, because they did not meet the definition of a smoker (to have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime). There were more men (71.5%) than women (28.5%) in the study. The majority of respondents had smoked for 6 or more years (81.1%), and almost two thirds had made two or three previous attempts to quit smoking.
Six months after purchasing the Blu electronic cigarettes, the survey found 31% of respondents had quit smoking. Of these, 56.7% were using e-cigarettes, 9.0% were using tobacco-free nicotine products, and 34.3% were completely nicotine-free. This data suggests electronic cigarettes decreases nicotine dependence, rather than maintaining or increasing the addiction as many opponents of e-cigarettes often claim. Apart from those who managed to give up smoking completely, 66.8% or subjects reported a decrease in the number of tobacco cigarettes they smoked, and 48.8% reported abstinence from smoking for a long period of time.
Because of the limitations of this study, its findings can only be viewed as suggestive, rather than definitive. There is no question more rigorous research is needed to make this data conclusive, but it still suggest that e-cigarettes show great efficiency as a smoking cessation and reduction method.
In 2010, another online survey conducted by UK-based e-cigarette merchant E-Cigarette Direct investigated the role of personal vaporizers as smoking cessation aids. Data collected from 303 subjects enrolled via email was sent for analysis to independent university researchers at the tobaccoharmreduction.org project. All respondents were smokers, and 91% of them had tried quitting in the past. 72% were from the US and 21% resided in Europe. 79% of subjects had been using electronic cigarettes for less than 6 months, and reported using them as a complete (79%) or partial (17%) replacement for, rather than in addition to (4%), cigarettes. The vast majority also said their general health greatly improved since they started using e-cigs.
All of the above studies suggest e-cigarettes show great promise as smoking cessation and reduction methods. Even though the percentages may not be as high as presented in the research above, considering smoking cessation products developed by pharmaceutical companies fail to work for up to 97% of smokers, I think there is a reason to be optimistic about electronic cigarettes. Now if only the FDA and other anti-smoking groups shared my views…