E-cigarettes may have helped some 18,000 smokers in England kick the tobacco habit last year, according to recent research.
Quitting attempts increased
The survey-based study was not a clinical trial, which means the link between the use of nicotine delivery devices and the number of people who quit smoking is not iron clad.
Indeed, other research has challenged the idea that e-cigarettes are an effective substitute for tobacco, with some studies even suggesting they are a "gateway" to adolescent addiction.
But a team of scientists led by Emma Beard of University College London, along with experts not involved in the study, said the new evidence that "vaping" can help smokers stop was compelling.
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"Successful quit attempts increased over the period of time that electronic cigarettes became popular," commented Ann McNeill, an expert on tobacco addiction at King's College London who did not take part in the research.
"In my view, smokers struggling to stop should try all possible methods, including e-cigarettes."
The study pointed out that funding for other public programmes to help people curb or quit smoking had been cut back at the same time, increasing the likelihood that e-cigarettes played a positive role.
One in five adults in Britain smokes, and tobacco – which kills 100,000 people there each year – is the top preventable cause of cancer.
Worldwide, smoking claims around six million lives annually, mostly in low-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
Britain's public health service offers tobacco users several pathways for quitting, including prescription medication and professional face-to-face counselling.
No serious side effects
As of today, e-cigarettes – used by 2.8 million UK residents – are not on the menu.
The study, however, suggests that perhaps they should be.
"Although these numbers are relatively small, they are clinically significant because of the huge health gains from stopping smoking," Beard and colleagues reported in The BMJ medical journal.
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A 40-year-old who quits tobacco can expect to live nine years longer than a life-long smoker, they pointed out.
No serious side effects
John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, welcomed the new findings, even as he called for more research.
A one-percent, year-on-year drop in adult smokers in Britain indicates that something is driving trends in the right direction, he said in a commentary, also in The BMJ.
"Successful quitting through substitution with e-cigarettes is one likely major contributor," he wrote.
Another report on e-cigarettes in Britain, released at the same time, similarly concluded the devices may help smokers get the tobacco monkey off their backs.
The Cochrane Review – updated from 2014 – also found that there were no serious side effects associated with e-cigarette use.
The authors noted that no randomised controlled trials – clinical experiments that allow scientists to rigorously compare impacts across different groups of people – had been conducted in the last two years, but that several are in the pipeline.
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