While electronic cigarettes aren’t yet on the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) list of approved smoking cessation products, there is mounting scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective at helping smokers to kick the habit.
There is just as strong a body of research that calls into question the effectiveness of TGA-approved pharmaceutical products such as nicotine patches, lozenges and sprays.
This post examines how e-cigarettes stack up against the more conventional quitting method of pharmaceutical anti-smoking medications, a.k.a nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs).
Why You Should Think Twice About Anti-Smoking Drugs
Not a Long Term Solution
A 2012 study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts found that nicotine gums and patches are not effective in helping to smokers quit in the long term.
This joint study found that one third of participants using these pharmaceutical NRTs relapsed, regardless of whether they were used in conjunction with professional counselling.
Multiple previous studies and anecdotal evidence point to similar disappointing results.
Cold Turkey Is More Effective
A 2006 Australian study found that going cold turkey was actually twice as effective as NRTs and bupropion-based drugs such as Zyban.
Additionally, the American Cancer Society found that around 91 per cent of former smokers quit through cold turkey or by slowly decreasing the amount of cigarettes they smoked.
Inflated Success Rates
The touted success of pharmaceutical smoking cessation methods should be considered with scepticism, for two reasons.
Firstly, clinical trials – some of which report success rates in excess of 50 per cent – do not simulate the real life conditions that would-be quitters face. These inflated success rates can be attributed to the fact that participants in clinical trials are carefully selected then supported with free medication, counselling and health care supports – all conditions which are an obvious departure from the reality for most.
Secondly, there is a stark contrast in the reported cessation rates of NRTs depending on who conducts the research. A 2007 review of selected controlled trials found that only 22 per cent of non-industry funded trials reported significant success rates, compared to the resoundingly successful results reported by more than half of the trials funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
These findings were followed by a 2012 study published in the Annual Review of Public Health. This found that the proliferation of smoking cessation drugs and telephone quit-lines over the past few decades has not been matched by a greater number of smokers successful in their attempts to quit.
In fact, the study attributed the falling rate of success for smoking cessation attempts to the marketing strategies employed by the pharmaceutical companies, which have effectively misrepresented how difficult it really is to quit.
How Electronic Cigarettes Can Help You to Stop Smoking
Satisfies the Hand to Mouth Habit
As discussed in a previous post, one of the major reasons that NRTs have proven to be so ineffective over the long term is that they don’t attend to smokers’ psychological addiction to cigarettes. Gums, patches and lozenges only combat nicotine addiction, not the hand-to-mouth habit that smokers neurologically associate with the relief and relaxation of having a cigarette.
In contrast, e-cigs offer users the look and feel of smoking, satisfying both their chemical and behavioural addictions. Two studies conducted in 2011 support this point.
An Italian study undertaken at the University of Catania tested two groups of heavy smokers with histories of successive failed quit attempts. After being introduced to the e-cigarette, test subjects were able to stop smoking and remain abstinent over the long term. Further details about this research can be found here.
These findings were echoed by research undertaken at the prestigious School of Public Health at Boston University. This study found that after using electronic cigarettes, users dramatically reduced the number of cigarettes smoked and had a greater likelihood of quitting over the long term.
A Low Risk Alternative
Electronic cigarettes enable vapers to feel like they are smoking and enjoy their nicotine hit, while having the peace of mind that they’re not inhaling the litany of toxic, cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
In fact, vaping is up 1000 times safer than smoking according to the Boston University research study cited above.
Similar results were found in a 2008 study undertaken by Health New Zealand. The lead researcher, Dr Murray Laugesen, concluded that electronic vapour contains only trace amounts of the major toxic agents in cigarette smoke, making vaping far safer for both users and passive inhalers alike.
I have written more about Dr Laugesen’s research in this post.
Self-Controlled Nicotine Dosage
The Health New Zealand study also suggested that electronic cigarettes are less addictive because they deliver less nicotine per puff when compared to smoking tobacco.
One of the major advantages that e-cigarettes have over pharmaceutical NRTs is that they give users full control over exactly how much nicotine they are consuming. Vapers can mix their own e-liquids to have either high or low nicotine concentrations, offering them the flexibility to slowly wean themselves off nicotine at their own pace.
And although trace amounts of carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) have been detected in nicotine e-liquid the levels found are comparable to other NRT products. In fact, those who vape daily would take 4 – 12 months to get the same amount of TSNAs found in one tobacco cigarette!
What Real Vapers Have to Say
So, can e-cigarettes help you to quit smoking? If you are not convinced by the science above, I encourage you to get advice straight from the horse’s mouth. Visit a vaping community forum online and you will see the countless success stories of those who traded smoking for vaping and are happier and healthier for making the change. Here are a few of their comments:
Smoked 2 packs a day for 45 years. Tobacco free from my first vape.
– Iffy, posted on E-Cigarette Forum
I tried it at home to see how well it would work, and quit smoking right then and there. I never even finished the open pack on my desk. From a pack a day for 30 years to zero for three and a half months in 1 moment.
– Magius, posted on E-Cigarette Forum
I loved smoking and was very skeptical of the whole thing. I some how decided to buy a starter kit with my wife. Honest to God I haven’t smoked a cigarette since. That was 97 days ago, I was a skeptic but I tell ya it was so easy. These are an ex smokers dream.
– McGatson, posted on E-Cigarette Forum
Have you been able to quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes? Or did you find going cold turkey or using a pharmaceutical NRT worked better for you?