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Which is Better for Quitting Smoking - Electronic Cigarettes or Nicotine Patches?

Tim Boyer's picture
Quit Smoking

Most people are aware that smoking can lead to lung disease such as emphysema and/or cancer; however, few are aware just how much smoking significantly decreases a person’s lifespan and youthful looks. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths with the average adult male smoker losing an estimated of 13.2 years of life and the average adult female smoker losing 14.5 years of life due to a nicotine habit.

Choosing a smoking cessation aid―such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or nicotine patches―is one of the most important decisions a smoker can make when it comes to quitting smoking. Studies show that by far, most attempts at quitting smoking fail and can cause someone who wants to kick their nicotine habit to give up after their first failure.

While smoking cessation aids such as nicotine patches have been around for quite a while and have helped many smokers quit smoking, e-cigarettes are relatively new and have stirred up significant controversy over its effectiveness and safety.

To put the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes to the test, a new study tells us that researchers addressed this question by pitting electronic cigarettes against nicotine patches to determine how the two compare when it comes to smoking cessation success.

In the study, 657 smokers from New Zealand were recruited by advertisements to participate in a 13-week long smoking cessation study conducted by researchers at the University of Auckland. The participants were divided into three groups consisting of:

• 292 volunteers receiving a 13-week supply of commercially available e-cigarettes, each of which contained around 16mg nicotine.
• 292 volunteers receiving a 13-week supply of nicotine patches.
• 73 volunteers receiving placebo e-cigarettes that contained no nicotine.

Three months after the 13-week smoking cessation study, the participants were followed up to determine how many had continued to stop smoking after their 13-week supplies of either nicotine spiked e-cigarettes, nicotine patches or placebo non-nicotine e-cigarettes ran out.

Overall, one in twenty (5.7%) of the participants managed to remain completely abstinent from smoking. So, which group did best?

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According to a news release from the European Lung Foundation, the study results published in the current issue of The Lancet reveals that e- cigarettes and nicotine patches proved to be statistically equal in helping smokers kick their habit.

The actual breakdown between e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and placebo e-cigarettes showed:

• 7.3% in the e-cigarettes group
• 5.8% in the nicotine patches group
• 4.1% in the placebo e-cigarettes group

Due to the relatively small numbers in the study, the difference in success between e-cigarettes and nicotine patches is statistically negligible.

However, what may not be as negligible is that the researchers also found that of those who failed to quit smoking and were on the nicotine spiked e-cigarettes is that 57% of them cut their cigarette consumption by at least one-half. In comparison of those who failed while on nicotine patches, 41% reduced their cigarette consumption by at least one-half.

Furthermore, one-in-three e-cigarette users continued to use their smoking cessation aid 6 months after the study in comparison to one-in-ten nicotine patch users. And, when all participants were asked if they would recommend to others the smoking cessation aid they used, 9 out of 10 participants in both the e-cigarettes and the placebo groups said they would, compared to just over half (56%) in the patches group.

Among those who had not managed to quit after six months, cigarette consumption was markedly reduced in the nicotine e-cigarettes group, compared to the patches and placebo groups; well 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 just over two fifths (41%) of the patches group.

The researchers caution that too much should not be taken from this study toward a preference for e-cigarettes over nicotine patches. They acknowledge that consumer enthusiasm for a new product may influence results and point out that nicotine patches have a long history of safety whereas much study is still needed to determine whether e-cigarettes are safe with long term use and for non-smokers as second hand smoke.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: “Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: a randomised controlled trial” The Lancet Published online September 7, 2013; Christopher Bullen et al.