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Oxford Researchers: Vaping helps people quit smoking better than nicotine patches or gum

New research has shown that electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes or vapes, help adults to quit smoking better than traditional nicotine replacement methods, such as patches and chewing gums.

The review from renowned British international charitable medical research organisation Cochrane involved researchers from the University of Oxford – who examined 78 studies, including 40 randomised controlled trials. Oxford University researchers concluded that smokers using electronic cigarettes were up to twice as likely to quit the habit for six months. 

The trials, involving 22,052 adults who smoked, assessed the effectiveness, tolerability, and safety of e-cigarettes to help quitting – an addition of 22 studies since the last update in 2021.

They found that quit rates among adults who used nicotine e-cigarettes were higher than those receiving nicotine replacement therapy. Researchers said this could translate to an additional four quitters per 100. 

The landmark review was published in the British Medical Journal on Thursday. Cochrane described it as “the strongest evidence yet” that vapes help people quit smoking better than other nicotine replacement therapies. 

Cancer experts have welcomed the report, which adds to a growing body of evidence showing that e-cigarettes are effective tools for quitting smoking. 

While the findings show that e-cigarettes or vapes are an effective way to help adults quit smoking, author Dr Nicola Lindson, a psychologist at Oxford University, warned that vaping is not “risk-free,” and should not be used by those who do not smoke, particularly younger adults. Researchers cautioned non-smokers against taking up vaping because “they are a relatively new product and we don’t yet know the long-term health effects”.

At present, the HSE does not recommend using vaping to help stop smoking. Instead, it recommends licensed medicines to stop smoking including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which is available in pharmacies, and prescription treatments from your GP.

The HSE says that “safer options have been proven to work”. It advises: ““These treatments have been tested over many years – they work and they are safe.

“We have reviewed the studies of vaping as a stop smoking support. Compared to the options we recommend; we are not confident that vaping is a safe or effective way to stop smoking. We will continue to review new studies”.

Smoking remains a significant worldwide health problem. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 22.3 per cent of the global population used tobacco in 2020, despite it being a cause of death for up to half of its users. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of heart attacks, lung cancer, and many other diseases. 

Nicotine patches and gum are safe, effective and widely used methods which go through quality and safety checks before they can be sold to help people quit smoking for good. E-cigarettes, which heat liquids with nicotine and flavourings, allowing users to ‘vape’ nicotine instead of smoking, are not licensed stop smoking medicines.

While there are some regulations for e-cigarettes and vaping liquids as consumer products, the system for licensed medicines is much stricter.

Data from the new review showed that if six in 100 people quit by using nicotine replacement therapy, eight to twelve would quit by using electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Researchers conclude that this means an additional two to six people in 100 could potentially quit smoking with nicotine containing electronic cigarettes.

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