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E-cigarettes don’t help smokers stop using traditional cigarettes, study suggests

Experts say consumers may actually be more likely to revert to traditional cigarettes after using e-cigarettes

E-cigarette and traditional cigarettes
Photo (c) AndreyPopov - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California San Diego explored one of the most common questions about e-cigarettes: do they help you quit smoking? 

According to their findings, the popular smoking devices aren’t associated with helping smokers quit traditional cigarettes. In fact, using e-cigarettes was linked with a higher risk of going back to regular cigarettes within one year of quitting. 

“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,” said researcher John P. Pierce, Ph.D. “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 cigarettes.” 

Not a long-term solution

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 14,000 people enrolled in the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study between 2013 and 2015. The researchers followed the participants’ smoking habits over the course of two years to determine any trends related to e-cigarettes and quitting smoking. 

“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,” explained researcher Karen Messer, Ph.D. 

After the first year of the study, the researchers learned that roughly 9.5% of the participants quit smoking; however, more than 37% of them picked up a tobacco habit again, and nearly 23% opted for e-cigarettes. 

By the second year, the study showed that using e-cigarettes complicated the participants’ efforts to quit smoking. Compared to participants who gave up smoking, those who transitioned into using e-cigarettes were 8.5% more likely to go back to using traditional cigarettes. 

Making more attempts at quitting

Though e-cigarettes may make it harder for smokers to avoid tobacco products long-term, the researchers also found that participants who opted for e-cigarettes were also more likely to continue trying to quit smoking. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that more work is done in this area to better understand what role e-cigarettes play in consumers’ long-term efforts to quit smoking. 

“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,” said Dr. Pierce. “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 to this.” 

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