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Are e-cigarettes more effective than nicotine patches?

Posted in: General Health 10 Sep, 2013

As the quest to find a ‘safe’ alternative to smoking continues to gather pace, new research has revealed the effectiveness of the latest quit-smoking fad, e-cigarettes. They may be a more desirable option for quitters but are they completely safe to use?

The Study

The trial, undertaken by researchers from the University of Auckland, was the first ever of its kind to compare e-cigarettes with nicotine patches and found both anti-smoking methods to have similar success rates amongst quitters.

In fact, e-cigarettes came out slightly better in the final results, which showed that 7.3% of e-cigarette users had quit after six months compared to 5.8% who used patches. In addition, after six months 57% of e-cigarette users had reduced their daily cigarette intake by a half compared with 41% in those using patches.

Professor Chris Bullen, from the University of Auckland added:

While our results don't show any clear-cut differences between e-cigarettes and patches in terms of 'quit success' after six months, it certainly seems that e-cigarettes were more effective in helping smokers who didn't quit to cut down.

It's also interesting that the people who took part in our study seemed to be much more enthusiastic about e-cigarettes than patches.

Problems and Benefits

Given the sudden and increasing popularity of e-cigarettes, which is largely thanks to the way they mimic the sensory sensation of smoking, it begs the question why opinion has polarised so much amongst health professionals. Some of these professionals express concerns about the regulation and safety of such a product:

  • The UK regulatory body, MHRA, have said that many e-cigarettes have not met the appropriate standards of ‘safety, quality and efficacy’ leading to reports of facial burns caused by the spontaneous explosion of vaporisers.
  • Other groups feel that e-cigarettes may undermine efforts by anti-smoking campaigns that have helped to de-glamourise the act of smoking.
  • The stylish red-glowing tips and fruity flavours may entice children to use them, which could get them addicted to nicotine.

It’s a given that laws have to adapt to the differing circumstances precipitated by such a product. But considering the life-saving potential of e-cigarettes, it would be unwise to deter people from using them. One such proposal is to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes, bringing them within medical regulation. This would almost certainly limit their availability, therefore narrowing the opportunity to help smokers quit.

There is no doubt that manufacturers should clearly label the components and that marketing campaigns should be strictly regulated, but to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes more forcefully than cigarettes themselves is sending out a somewhat confusing message to the public.

So…which method is more effective?

Though it may appear from the results that e-cigarettes are more effective than patches, the study in question did not involve enough people to conclusively prove so. Long-term trials with more subjects will be needed to fully establish the potential of each method. Until then, regulatory bodies will remain uncertain of the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes and, therefore, restrictions will be inconsistent and cautious. Despite the uncertainties surrounding these products, what we know for sure is that they mimic the sensations and rituals that make smoking an integral part of someone’s daily routine and, asides from the nicotine addiction, are exactly what makes it so hard to kick the habit.

If you have tried various over-the-counter stop smoking treatments and have failed to quit smoking, you may like to visit our treatment page for expert advice on prescription anti-smoking treatments such as Champix.
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