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How do e-cigarettes compare to nicotine patches in helping smokers quit?

The first ever clinical trial to compare the two also assessed the health risks of e-cigarettes in a large group outside a lab for the first time.

Image: E-cigarette via Shutterstock

THE FIRST EVER clinical trial to compare e-cigarettes with nicotine patches has found that they’re both about as effective in helping people to quit smoking completely.

The study, published in The Lancet, found that both methods result in comparable success in quitting, with roughly similar proportions of smokers who used either method managing to stop smoking for six months after a 13 week course.

A team of researchers at The University of Auckland in New Zealand recruited 657 smokers to the trial through advertisements in local newspapers. Participants were all people who wanted to quit smoking and were divided into three groups with some receiving a supply of e-cigarettes, some using nicotine patches and others receiving placebo e-cigarettes, which contained no nicotine.

Results

At the end of the six-month study period, around one in twenty study participants had managed to completely stop smoking.

While the proportion of those who successfully quit was highest in the e-cigarettes group, the differences were not statistically significant, researchers said.

The results suggest that e-cigarettes are comparable to nicotine patches in helping people to quit for at least six months.

Among those who didn’t manage to quit after six months, cigarette consumption was markedly reduced in the e-cigarettes group, compared to the patches and placebo groups. Well over half of the participants in this group had reduced their daily consumption by at least half after six months, compared to just over two fifths of the patches group.

Recommendations

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 in the patches group; these proportions were little changed after six months.

The study is also the first to evaluate whether there are any adverse health effects associated with using e-cigarettes in a large group of people, and in a real life, rather than laboratory, situation.

Comparing the e-cigarettes users to the group who were using nicotine patches – whose clinical safety has already been established – the researchers found no difference in rates of occurrence of adverse health events overall, and no difference in serious adverse events.

This suggests that e-cigarettes are comparable to nicotine patches in terms of safety, although the authors cautioned that data from trials with much longer follow up periods will be needed to establish the long-term safety of e-cigarette use.

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