The rise of e-cigarettes may be linked to a higher rate of successful attempts at quit smoking, according to a new U.K. study published in the journal The BMJ.
According to the findings, the growth of e-cigarette use was linked to an additional 18,000 long-term ex-smokers in England in 2015. The researchers say “although these numbers are relatively small, they are clinically significant because of the huge health gains from stopping smoking.”
In fact, the researchers note that a 40-year-old smoker who completely quits can expect to add nine life years compared with a continuing smoker. However, as with any observational study, solid conclusions about cause and effect cannot be made, they say.
Meanwhile, no clear evidence emerged for an association between e-cigarette use and rate of quit attempts, use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) bought over the counter, overall use of prescription treatment, or use of NHS stop-smoking services.
The authors explain that the results “conflict with the hypothesis that an increase in population use of e-cigarettes undermines quitting in general.”
However, e-cigarette use in people trying to quit was negatively linked to use of NRT on prescription, perhaps because patients using e-cigarettes having already tried NRT, explain the authors. They say more studies are needed to confirm this.
For the study, the UK researchers used a time series analysis to investigate the association between changes in prevalence of e-cigarette use and changes in prevalence of quit attempts, success of those attempts, use of licensed and prescribed medication on prescription and over the counter, and behavioral support.
They looked at data from the Smoking Toolkit Study, which included monthly household surveys of a representative sample of people aged 16 years and older in England. Data were aggregated on 43,000 smokers between 2006 and 2015.
Statistics on the use of NHS stop smoking services were gathered from the NHS Information Centre, which reported a total of 8,029,012 quit dates being set with the program during the same period.
The researchers tried to take account of tobacco control policies, mass media expenditure and smoking prevalence in their analyses.
In a linked editorial, John Britton from the University of Nottingham said the findings suggest that “successful quitting through substitution with electronic cigarettes is a likely contributor to the falling prevalence of smoking.”
He also said the significant year-by-year fall in smoking “indicates that something in U.K. tobacco control policy is working, and successful quitting through substitution with e-cigarettes is one likely major contributor. The challenge for public health is to embrace the potential of this new technology, and put it to full use.”