The first ever trial to compare electronic cigarettes with nicotine patches suggests they have comparable success for quitting – though cessation rates remain low for both.
The study, presented at the European Respiratory Society annual congress in Barcelona, found roughly similar proportions of smokers who used either method remaining abstinent from smoking for six months after a 13 week course of patches or e-cigarettes.
New Zealand researchers recruited 657 smokers who wanted to quit. Of these 292 received commercially available e-cigarettes, containing around 16mg nicotine, the same number received nicotine patches, and 73 received placebo e-cigarettes containing no nicotine.
At the end of the study, 7.3% of the e-cigarettes group had managed to remain completely abstinent from smoking. This compared with 5.8% of those in the nicotine patches group and 4.1% in the placebo device group.
Among those who had not managed to quit, cigarette consumption was markedly reduced in the nicotine e-cigarettes group, compared to the patches and placebo groups, the researchers said.
Over half, 57%, of the participants in the e-cigarettes group had reduced their daily consumption of cigarettes by at least half after six months, compared to 41% of the patches group.
In both e-cigarettes groups, a third of participants were still using the devices after six months, compared to only 8% of those in the patches group.
European Respiratory Society president Professor Francesco Blasi said: “The introduction of e-cigarettes on the market has caused some debate amongst healthcare professionals.
“This study has taken us one step closer to understanding the effectiveness of these devices as a quitting aid, but we still need long-term independent clinical trials and behavioural studies.
“It is also essential that research focuses on the safety of these devices, as this is still an area that is lacking data and the results of this study suggest many people are enthusiastic about the use of the devices.”