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E-cigarettes help smokers quit, report says

No more waiting for the federal government to act: Some states are banning electronic cigarettes in public places, saying that even though they're not traditional nicotine, they're still dangerous. (Jackie Kucinich and Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)

The debate over the costs and benefits of e-cigarettes is well underway, and if you’re keeping track at home, add this newest report to the column of e-cigarette benefits.

In a study of 5,863 adults, users of e-cigarettes were significantly more likely to report that they successfully quit smoking than people who tried over-the-counter cessation aids or tried to go cold turkey. Conducted by University College London researchers, the research is scheduled to be published in the journal Addiction on Wednesday.

Twenty percent of those who used e-cigarettes reported that they had quit and were still off cigarettes at the time the survey was taken. Ten percent of those who used nicotine patches or gums said they had quit, and about 15 percent of those who used nothing at all to help them quiit said they were still refraining from smoking.

"The potential public health aspect to e-cigarettes is they seem to tap into a widespread appeal that these types of cessation methods have never managed to do," Jamie Brown, one of the study's authors, said in an interview Tuesday. "In so far as e-cigarettes helped people to stop, then the fact that they are so widely used could suggest that it would have a quite positive public health effect."

About 42 million Americans currently smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, more than 68 percent are trying to quit. Brown cautioned that the most effective method of quitting is getting help from a medical professional, who can prescribe even more effective aids.

The study's conclusions won't come as a huge surprise to e-cigarette boosters, who have long defended the potential public health benefits of the devices. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine-laced liquid to produce an inhalable vapor, instead of burning tobacco. Smoke from tobacco contains at least 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer.

Yet e-cigarettes have their own risks: The devices are lightly regulated in the United States; their nicotine levels vary; and there have been some reports of carcinogens present in the vapor.

E-cigarettes appear to be better at helping people quit because they are a novel way of consuming nicotine. "Vaping" provides a similar "sensory experience" to smoking, Brown said. People believe they are safer (so they use them more), and, unlike going cold turkey,  the nicotine prevents withdrawal symptoms, he said.

A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand was inconclusive about whether e-cigarettes were better than other methods of quitting.

The Food and Drug Administration still plans to regulate e-cigarettes, which could curb sales to minors and force manufacturers to put health warnings on their labels.

The new study is unlikely to ease the anxieties of cigarette manufacturers,  who have been getting into the business of creating e-cigarettes in part because of the threat the devices pose to their core business. Overall, this study is just "one piece in the jigsaw puzzle" of information about whether e-cigarettes are safe, Brown said.  But he said his research indicates that the public health benefit of moving smokers away from traditional cigarettes onto e-cigarettes is well worth it.

"It’s important to remember that the comparison is to smoking," Brown said. "Even if e-cigarettes cause one-twentieth of the harm and all smokers switch to e-cigarettes, that would also result in a huge reduction in harm."

Read more: FDA plans to regulate e-cigarettes.

Seven things you should know about e-cigarettes.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at On Twitter: @abbydphillip



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