Emerging evidence suggests that electronic cigarettes are effective for helping people quit or reduce their smoking, according to a Cochrane review.
Although increasingly used by many smokers as an aid to stopping or reducing consumption, little has been known about how effective they are at helping people to stop, nor their long term effects.
The first Cochrane review on the subject, published earlier this week, was carried out by a team of researchers from the UK and New Zealand.
“This timely review indicates that that these products have a role to play in helping smokers quit”
They looked at two randomised trials, involving 662 current smokers, which compared nicotine containing electronic cigarettes with placebo devices with no nicotine. The team also looked at 11 observational studies.
About 9% of smokers who used electronic cigarettes were able to stop smoking at up to one year. This compared with around 4% of smokers who used the nicotine-free electronic cigarettes.
When the researchers looked at the data on reducing cigarettes in people who had not quit, they found that 36% of electronic cigarette users halved the number of conventional cigarettes. This compared with 28% of users who were given the placebos.
One of the trials also looked at the effects of electronic cigarettes compared with nicotine patches and suggested similar efficacy between the two.
No serious adverse effects occurred over short to mid-term electronic cigarette use.
Review author Professor Peter Hajek described the results as “encouraging”.
“Both trials used electronic cigarettes with low nicotine delivery and it is likely that more recent products are more effective as previous research suggests that higher and faster nicotine delivery facilitates treatment effects,” he said.
He added: “Several ongoing studies will help to answer the question more fully.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking charity ASH, said: “Electronic cigarettes are used by millions of smokers in the UK but the risks and benefits have been heavily disputed.
“This timely review indicates that that these products have a role to play in helping smokers quit,” she said.
“It should stimulate more research, which is just what is needed in this important area of public health which has the potential to save so many lives,” she added.