Electronic cigarettes are almost twice as effective as nicotine replacement treatments at helping people to quit smoking, according to new research.
A clinical trial carried out by Queen Mary University found that 18% of participants who used e-cigarettes were smoke-free after a year, compared to just under 10% of those who used other nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) like patches and gum to quit.
It also found that of those who quit smoking, 80% of e-cigarette participants were still using their allocated product at 52 weeks, compared with only 9% of NRT participants.
The researchers said that the reason e-cigarettes were found to be more effective could be primarily because they allow ‘better tailoring’ of the nicotine dose to a person’s needs, but also because they provide some of the behavioural aspects of smoking.
The trial involved 886 smokers. The majority were ‘middle-aged dependent smokers’, with 40% of the group entitled to free prescriptions, researchers said.
People who took part in the trial attended NHS stop smoking services in Tower Hamlets, the City of London, Leicester and East Sussex, where they were randomised to receive either a nicotine replacement treatment of their choice, provided for up to three months, or an e-cigarette starter pack with one or two bottles of e-liquid.
All participants also received weekly one-on-one behavioural support for at least four weeks, and regular monitoring of their expired air carbon monoxide levels.
The study also found that people who used e-cigarettes experienced less severe urges to smoke at one and four weeks after their quit date and reported a lower increase in irritability, restlessness and inability to concentrate after the first week of quitting.
Both types of products were perceived as less satisfying than cigarettes, but e-cigarettes provided higher satisfaction and were rated as more helpful, it found.
In addition, the researchers found that e-cigarette participants experienced more irritation to their throat and mouth, while NRT participants had more nausea.
Professor Peter Hajek, lead researcher at Queen Mary University London, said the trial was the first to test the efficacy of modern e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit.
He added: ‘Although a large number of smokers report that they have quit smoking successfully with the help of e-cigarettes, health professionals have been reluctant to recommend their use because of the lack of clear evidence from randomised controlled trials. This is now likely to change.’
Martin Dockrell, tobacco control lead at Public Health England, said: ‘This landmark research shows that switching to an e-cigarette can be one of the most effective ways to quit smoking, especially when combined with face-to-face support. All stop smoking services should welcome smokers who want to quit with the help of an e-cigarette.’
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.