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E-cigarettes as effective as nicotine patches for quitting

First trial comparing e-cigarettes with nicotine patches shows comparable success rates

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 09 September 2013

The first ever trial to compare e-cigarettes with nicotine patches has found that both methods result in comparable success in quitting,

The results of the controlled trial, the first to assess whether e-cigarettes are more or less effective than an established smoking cessation aid and only the second to evaluate e-cigarettes, were presented yesterday at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) Annual Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and published in The Lancet.

Researchers in New Zealand recruited 657 smokers who wanted to quit smoking, and divided them into three groups. Just under 300 (292) smokers received 13 weeks' supply of commercially available e-cigarettes, each of which contained around 16mg nicotine. The same number (292) received 13 weeks' supply of nicotine patches, and a smaller number of participants (73) received placebo e-cigarettes, which contained no nicotine.

Six months later, around one in twenty study participants (5.7%) had managed to remain completely abstinent from smoking. The proportion of participants who successfully quit was highest in the e-cigarettes group (7.3%, compared to 5.8% for those in the nicotine patches group, and 4.1% in the placebo e-cigarettes group), but these differences were not statistically significant.

Among those who had not managed to quit after six months, cigarette consumption was markedly reduced in the nicotine e-cigarettes group, compared to the patches and placebo groups. Over half (57%) of the participants in the e-cigarettes group had reduced their daily consumption of cigarettes by at least half after six months, compared to just over two fifths (41%) of the patches group.

In both of the nicotine and placebo e-cigarettes groups, a third of participants were still using the devices after six months, compared to under one in ten (8%) of those in the patches group. When asked whether they would recommend their allocated product to a friend, one month after finishing the course, around 9 out of 10 participants in both the e-cigarettes and the placebo groups said they would, compared to just over half (56%) in the patches group.

Professor Chris Bullen, director of the National Institute for Health Innovation at The University of Auckland in New Zealand, said: "Our study establishes a critical benchmark for e-cigarette performance compared to nicotine patches and placebo e-cigarettes, but there is still so much that is unknown about the effectiveness and long-term effects of e-cigarettes. Given the increasing popularity of these devices in many countries, and the accompanying regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, larger, longer-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether these devices might be able to fulfil their potential as effective and popular smoking cessation aids."

European Respiratory Society President, Professor Francesco Blasi, said: "We need more research on the positive or negative effects of these products.

"This study has taken us one step closer to understanding the effectiveness of these devices as a quitting aid, but we still need long-term independent clinical trials and behavioural studies. It is also essential that research focuses on the safety of these devices, as this is still an area that is lacking data and the results of this study suggest many people are enthusiastic about the use of the devices. Until this strong scientific evidence exists, policymakers who are deciding how to regulate the devices should proceed with caution."

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