Smokers looking to go cold turkey using tobacco-free, nicotine-filled electronic cigarettes as a cessation aid are expected to be just as successful as those that use nicotine patches, according to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet, despite recent concerns over increased e-cigarette use among minors.
The findings are based on results from 657 test subjects split into three groups who were supplied e-cigarettes filled with 16 milligrams of nicotine, nicotine patches or placebo e-cigarettes, respectively, for 13 weeks. After a three month follow-up period, around 7.3 percent of the 292 participants in the e-cigarette group had curbed smoking entirely, compared to 5.8 percent of the 292 subjects given nicotine patches and 4.1 percent of the 73-person placebo group.
All the subjects wanted to quit smoking before being included in the study. Overall, one in 20 of the total participant pool quit smoking entirely, though participants who used e-cigarettes were more likely to continue using the devices after the study. A third of the subjects in the nicotine and placebo e-cigarette groups were using the devices six months after the study ended, compared to only 8 percent of those who were still using nicotine patches.
"Given the increasing popularity of these devices in many countries, and the accompanying regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, larger, longer-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether these devices might be able to fulfill their potential as effective and popular smoking cessation aids," said Chris Bullen, Director of the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Aukland in New Zealand and lead author of the study, in a statement.
However, optimism is not a sentiment felt by a number of legislators who denounced the devices following a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showing an increase in e-cigarette use in high school and middle school students.
"These products still pose serious dangers for kids and adults alike, despite their perceived image as safer alternatives to cigarettes," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "Regardless of the vehicle, smoking and nicotine use cost our country greatly, in terms of both health care dollars and lives lost."
According to the CDC, the number of high school students that have used an e-cigarette jumped from 4.7 to 10 percent between 2011 and 2012. E-cigarette use in middle school students increased from 1.4 to 2.7 percent in the same period. The report cited concerns over nicotine's negative impact on adolescent brain development and the risk for nicotine addiction.
The Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Minors in many places are able to purchase the devices over the counter.