Quitting Rates are Up, Electronic Cigarettes May be Helping

Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in the US. Can E-cigarettes help people quit? (iStock)

Electronic cigarettes may be a helpful tool for those who are looking to quit smoking, according to a recent study. This complicates the public health narrative around this new tobacco product, which have grown in popularity in the U.S. over the past decade.

E-cigarettes are relatively new to the market, and their rapid popularity has caused public health agencies to grapple to create regulations and messaging around a technology with unclear health implications. This study, published in the journal BMJ, puts some weight behind the idea the e-cigarettes can have a positive health impact on those who are trying to kick cigarettes.

The e-cigarette uses a coil to heat a nicotine solution so it can be inhaled as vapor. This process can allow users to get their nicotine fix while leaving behind the carcinogens associated with breathing in smoke. Trading in a regular cigarette for an electronic option could have significant health implications considering smoking cigarettes remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego looked at over 160,000 people over 14 years and found that people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking were more successful than those who didn’t.

Americans are quitting smoking at higher rates, according to this study. This trend tracks neatly with an increase in the use of e-cigarettes. The study found that 5.6 percent of the smokers quit in 2014-15, which is up from the 2010-11 rates (4.5 percent). While this shift may seem small, it represents an additional 350,000 Americans quitting smoking in 2014-15.

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This study suggests that the rise in vaping may be partially responsible for a decrease in smoking. The researchers cite other likely reasons for the decrease in smoking during this time, namely a federal tobacco tax in 2009 and a national anti-smoking campaign in 2012. This study comes up at the same time as the Food and Drug Administration is proposing to cut the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, which could potentially decrease addition rates.

About a fifth of people who have recently quit smoking use e-cigarettes, according to the study.

Steven Reinberg reports for CBS News:

Kenneth Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, welcomed the findings.

The study authors have used a large data set to address whether e-cigarettes can help adults break the cigarette habit and they determined "e-cigarettes are helping smokers to quit," Warner said.

In the United States, public health organizations have focused almost exclusively on the potential adverse consequences of e-cigarettes for kids, to the detriment of the health of adults who might benefit from a more positive take on e-cigarettes, he said.

"This study suggests that we should be receptive to the kind of approach that health authorities in England have taken, encouraging smokers who cannot quit otherwise to try e-cigarettes," Warner said.

"With proper regulation, we could increase the potential of e-cigarettes to reduce the horrific toll of cigarette smoking in our society," he added.

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E-cigarettes remain controversial among the public health field. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that they are the most commonly used tobacco product in young people, and come with their own health risks such as addition, lung disease and heavy metal exposure.

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