The role that electronic cigarettes and vaporizers may play in helping smokers quit gained another research boost last week.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Rutgers School of Public Health determined that 52 percent of daily e-cig users in a study had quit smoking in the past five years, compared with just 28 percent of adults who had never tried e-cigs.
Researchers said it was one of the first studies “to reveal the patterns of cessation prevalence among e-cigarette users at a national level.”
“While questions regarding the efficacy of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation remain, our findings suggest that frequent e-cigarette use may play an important role in cessation or relapse prevention for some smokers,” said Daniel Giovenco, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of Sociomedical Services at Columbia.
The study was published in the journal of Addictive Behaviors. Researchers used data from the 2014 and 2015 National Health Interview surveys that reflected data back to 2010, the year when e-cigs became a mainstream product offering.
Researchers said they took into account participants’ desire to quit smoking, while controlling for other factors known to predict quitting, such as educational attainment, health insurance and age.
Researchers determined that as e-cig and vaporizer technology evolves, they become easier to use and more effective in becoming a nicotine product option over traditional cigarettes.
However, infrequent e-cig users were less likely to quit cigarettes or to be users of both products.
Dr. John Spangler, a professor of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said the study confirms what he has observed from some patients that “smokers who only occasionally use e-cigarettes are less likely to quit.”
“One caveat to this study is that it is difficult to tell if smokers who quit used e-cigs to quit or if they used e-cigs to prevent relapse after using other methods to quit.
“As we see more studies like these trials, we will be in a much stronger position to recommend e-cigs for patients to use to quit smoking,” Spangler said.
The study was released about three weeks after Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, called for a sweeping regulatory “road map” on tobacco and nicotine products.
That included easing some regulations for product innovations, and extending the application deadline for FDA regulatory review for new products, such as e-cigs and vaporizers, from late 2018 to as far out as August 2022.
“The FDA recently delayed rules that would have limited e-cigarettes on the market,” Giovenco said. “This indicates that public health officials may be receptive to innovative and lower-risk nicotine products.”
As has been the case in most studies reviewing a potential reduced-risk for e-cigs, what these results signify depend on where individuals fall on the anti-tobacco, anti-smoking spectrum.
Some studies, including one by the Royal College of Physicians, have claimed e-cigs and vaporizers are up to 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The Royal College’s study on traditional cigarettes played a key role in the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s determination on the harmful effects of smoking.
“I am sure there are people so committed to a quit-or-die approach that no amount or quality of research will make a difference,” said David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa and the author of several electronic-cigarette studies.
“The real test is with consumers themselves. People can only make as good a decision as the information available to them allows, and as the information and available options gets better, public health revolutions occur.”
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said the study “underscores the need for Scott Gottlieb to enact major reforms to the FDA’s premarket review process.”
“In any other public-health field, news like this would reverberate throughout the scientific community and bring about major changes in policy and strategy.”
In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a 26-month study of 15,943 adult cigarette smokers. It was published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
The goal was determining what may be the most effective ways of quitting smoking among 10 common methods.
When it came to a potential smoking-cessation device, substituting some cigarettes with e-cigs (35.3 percent) was used by a greater percentage of smokers than the nicotine patch or gum (25.4 percent) or other cessation aids approved by the FDA, the CDC said.