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Studies: E-Cigarettes Popular, May Be Effective at Helping Smokers Quit

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A new research study from Boston University suggests that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may be more effective at helping smokers quit than nicotine patches or gum, TIME magazine reported Feb. 10.

The researchers, led by Michael Siegel, M.D., sent surveys to 5,000 first-time buyers of e-cigarettes over two weeks in 2009. The response rate was low (4.5 percent), or 222, according to a summary published by the Boston University School of Public Health. Respondents were primarily older males who had tried to quit smoking many times in the past. 

Nearly 67 percent of the respondents reported that they had cut down on cigarettes six months after beginning use of e-cigarettes, and 34.3 percent said they were not using e-cigarettes or other cessation aids that contained nicotine. Other research has shown that around 12 to 18 percent of people who used nicotine patches and nicotine gum report abstinence at six months – nearly half the rate of those who used e-cigarettes in this survey.

“This study suggests that electronic cigarettes are helping thousands of ex-smokers remain off cigarettes,” Siegel said.

The authors of the study acknowledged that the study’s conclusions were limited by the low response rate, pointing out that smokers who had quit or cut down on smoking might be more likely to respond. However, they said it was the best evidence to date on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes, and that the devices “hold promise as a smoking-cessation method and that they are worthy of further study using more rigorous research designs.”

TIME said that at least one earlier study had concluded that e-cigarettes were ineffective at helping smokers quit. Several states are considering prohibiting their use.

“Banning this product would invariably result in many ex-smokers returning to cigarette smoking,” Siegel said. “Removing electronic cigarettes from the market would substantially harm the public’s health.”

Meanwhile, a second study of e-cigarettes from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reviewed internet searches for smoking alternatives between January 2008 and September 2010 and found that e-cigarettes had become far more popular than other options, at least in the United States and the U.K.

“Neither of these two studies provides scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping people to quit,” said professor John Pierce of the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s not clear to me that e-cigarettes aren’t harmful in some way. It’s not clear to the FDA, either.”

Both studies appeared online Feb. 8, 2011 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The Boston University study, led by Michael B. Siegel, was titled, “Electronic Cigarettes As a Smoking-Cessation Tool: Results from an Online Survey” (PDF). The study on the popularity of e-cigarettes conducted by John W. Ayers and his team, was titled, “Tracking the Rise in Popularity of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (’Electronic Cigarettes’) Using Search Query Surveillance” (PDF).

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