In the first ever study to compare e-cigarettes with nicotine patches, researchers found that both methods show comparable success rates when it comes to smoking cessation.
Smokers who used either method for 13 weeks were able to avoid cigarettes for six months, the study found, suggesting that controversial e-cigarettes might be more valuable for addiction therapy than previously thought.
A team of researchers from the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland in New Zealand recruited 657 people who wanted to quit smoking. The participants were divided in three groups: one received a 13-week supply of e-cigarettes with a small amount of nicotine, a second received a 13-week supply of nicotine patches and a third group was given placebo e-cigarettes, which contained no nicotine.
At the study's completion, smoking cessation rates were highest in the group who used e-cigarettes with nicotine. However, the study authors noted that these results were not statistically significant. The findings suggest e-cigarettes are comparable to nicotine patches in helping people quit smoking for at least six months.
Even in participants who were unable to quit smoking entirely, those who used e-cigarettes smoked regular cigarettes far less than people in the placebo or nicotine groups.
"Our study establishes a critical benchmark for e-cigarette performance compared to nicotine patches and placebo e-cigarettes, but there is still so much that is unknown about the effectiveness and long-term effects of e-cigarettes," Chris Bullen, study lead, said in a press release.
E-cigarettes have been controversial since they hit the market, mostly because they have been linked to an increase in teen smoking. Public health advocates say that e-cigarette manufacturers use the same tactics tobacco companies employ to help lure young people into smoking, like offering candy-flavored products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest research suggests that e-cigarettes might act as a dangerous gateway drug, setting up young people for a lifetime of tobacco addiction.
Yet proponents say e-cigarettes are important for people battling smoking addiction - they offer the only type of "real" smoking experience for people who haven't been able to quit using other methods.
More research on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation is necessary before healthcare professionals can have an informed debate, Bullen concluded:
"Given the increasing popularity of these devices in many countries, and the accompanying regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, larger, longer-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether these devices might be able to fulfill their potential as effective and popular smoking cessation aids."
Results of the study are published in The Lancet.
Source: European Lung Foundation