Although some research has suggested that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and other vaping devices could help individuals quit smoking traditional cigarettes, a study published last week in PLOS One suggests the devices might not be effective at helping U.S. residents kick their cigarette habits.
Researchers at Georgia State University (GSU) conducted the observational study, which was funded by FDA and NIH. The researchers analyzed responses from 858 U.S. adults who smoked traditional cigarettes and completed a survey in the summer of 2015, as well as a follow-up survey one year later.
Overall, the researchers said they found "no evidence" that vaping devices "helped adult [cigarette] smokers quit at rates higher than smokers who did not use these products." Instead, the researchers found that U.S. adult smokers who did not use electronic vaping devices were more than twice as likely to quit smoking traditional cigarettes as those who used the devices. Further, the researchers noted that more than 90% of traditional cigarette smokers who used electronic vaping devices at the beginning of the study still smoked cigarettes a year later, and more than half of those individuals still vaped a year later.
The researchers wrote that vaping devices "may not be the disruptive technology that increases the population quit rate." They suggested several reasons why vaping devices might not help cigarette smokers quit, including that smokers might not get enough nicotine from the devices to help them give up cigarettes completely. The researchers wrote, "Absent any meaningful changes, [vaping device] use among adult smokers is unlikely to be a sufficient solution to obtaining a meaningful increase in population quit rates."
Separately, Scott Weaver, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at GSU, said, "We need to look at changes to [vaping devices'] design[s], marketing, or regulation that could help them be more effective as smoking cessation tools."
However, David Abrams, a professor in the College of Global Public Health at New York University, said the percentage of individuals in the study who quit cigarettes and had both smoked and used vaping devices was about double the overall rate of U.S. smokers who quit. "I don't see anything here that should discourage smokers who struggle so hard with quitting or switching to not try and keep trying e-cigarettes until they find one that works," he said.
In addition, Michael Eriksen, dean of GSU's School of Public Health and a senior author of the study, said the study's results might be different if it were conducted today, because newer devices that contain higher concentrations of nicotine have become more popular since the study took place.
Still, Eriksen said "Any amount of smoking is harmful, and it's really not benefiting [smokers] if they don't quit entirely." He added, "We need to be much more consistent in our guidance to smokers about how to use [vaping devices] and that they need to quit smoking and avoid dual use" (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 7/9; Stych, Bizwomen, accessed 7/12).
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