Some people try to stop smoking by using electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, as a replacement for traditional cigarettes. In a new study, researchers analyzed whether this strategy could be an effective way to quit smoking. Cigarette smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States are associated with smoking.
The e-cigarette study results, published in October 2021 in the journal JAMA Network Open, indicated that people who quit smoking tobacco and switched to e-cigarettes or another tobacco product were more likely to go back to regular cigarettes than those who stopped using tobacco products altogether.
In the analysis, researchers used data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study. Participants in this study were people throughout the U.S. who completed surveys about health and smoking once per year.
The study authors identified people who had recently quit smoking. Within this group, some people had quit using tobacco entirely, while others had switched from cigarettes to e-cigarettes or another tobacco product. In the following year’s survey, the authors looked to see whether the people who had quit were still avoiding cigarettes, or whether they had relapsed (begun smoking again).
Results showed that people who used e-cigarettes or other tobacco products were less likely to avoid cigarettes over that year-long period. The relapse rate was 8.5 percent higher among people who quit cigarettes and started using any other tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, compared to those who refrained from using tobacco in any form.
Dr. John P. Pierce, lead author of the study, said in a press release that e-cigarettes might not be an effective way to get rid of a smoking habit. “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 of cigarettes,” he said.
“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 of this,” Dr. Pierce said.
Many people may believe that e-cigarettes are a healthier option than traditional cigarettes. However, this may not be the case.
People interested in quitting cigarettes should consider programs that encourage avoiding all tobacco products rather than using e-cigarettes as a replacement.