SAN DIEGO, Calif. — E-cigarettes have a reputation as being a “safer alternative” to smoking tobacco and an avenue many smokers take to kicking the habit. However, a new study finds e-cigarettes don’t appear to be helping people actually quit smoking. In fact, researchers from the University of California-San Diego say those using the devices are more likely to relapse within the next 12 months.
“Our findings suggest that individuals who quit smoking and switched to e-cigarettes or other tobacco products actually increased their risk of a relapse back to smoking over the next year by 8.5 percentage points compared to those who quit using all tobacco products,” says study first author Professor John Pierce in a university release.
“Quitting is the most important thing a smoker can do to improve their health, but the evidence indicates that switching to e-cigarettes made it less likely, not more likely, to stay off of cigarettes.”
The team identified 13,604 smokers in the United States who they tracked from 2013 to 2015 to explore changes in their use of 12 tobacco products. At the second annual follow-up, researchers compared former smokers to those who only switched to e-cigarettes or other tobacco alternatives.
Results show that those who switched to e-cigarettes or another product were 8.5 percent more likely to pick up smoking again in comparison to those who quit cold-turkey.
Back on cigarettes within a year?
Among former smokers who abstained from all tobacco products, 50 percent stayed off cigarettes for at least 12 months. Only 41.5 percent of those switching to e-cigs or other alternatives had the same success.
“Our goal in this study was to assess whether recent former smokers who had switched to e-cigarettes or another tobacco product were less likely to relapse to cigarette smoking compared to those who remained tobacco free,” says senior author Prof. Karen Messer.
The study in JAMA Network Open is the first of its kind, according to the study authors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have suggested that smokers who have trouble quitting may benefit from vaping. However, there have been few studies on whether smokers are able to transition to the battery-operated devices without relapsing back to the real thing.
E-cigarettes heat a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals which make an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. Study authors found using e-cigs – even on a daily basis – do not help smokers successfully stay off cigarettes over the long-term.
Just 1 in 10 people successfully quit smoking?
Researchers used data from the nationally representative PATH (Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health) longitudinal study to reach their conclusions. At the first annual follow-up, 9.4 percent of the participants, all established smokers, successfully quit the habit. Out of these “former smokers,” 63 percent stayed tobacco-free throughout the study. Meanwhile, 37 percent switched to another form of tobacco product. Of these, one in four used e-cigarettes, with most of them using these devices daily.
“This is the first study to take a deep look at whether switching to a less harmful nicotine source can be maintained over time without relapsing to cigarette smoking,” Prof Pierce adds. “If switching to e-cigarettes was a viable way to quit cigarette smoking, then those who switched to e-cigarettes should have much lower relapse rates to cigarette smoking. We found no evidence of this.”
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.