By the end of the 8-month study, 21 percent of study participants had stopped smoking tobacco altogether and an additional 23 percent cut the number of tobacco cigarettes they smoked per day by half
Electronic cigarettes offer smokers a realistic way to kick their tobacco smoking addiction. In a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, scientists at KU Leuven report that e-cigarettes successfully reduced cravings for tobacco cigarettes, with only minimal side effects.
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) were developed as a less harmful alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They contain 100 to 1,000 times less toxic substances and emulate the experience of smoking a tobacco cigarette.
In an 8-month study, the KU Leuven researchers examined the effect of using e-cigs ("vaping") in 48 participants, all of whom were smokers with no intention to quit. The researchers' goal was to evaluate whether e-cigs decreased the urge to smoke tobacco cigarettes in the short term, and whether e-cigs helped people stop smoking altogether in the long-term.
The participants were divided into three groups: two e-cig groups, which were allowed to vape and smoke tobacco cigarettes for the first two months of the study, and a control group that only had access to tobacco. In a second phase of the study, the control group was given e-cigs and all participants were monitored for a period of six months via a web tool, where they regularly logged their vaping and smoking habits.
In the lab, the e-cigs proved to be just as effective in suppressing the craving for a smoke as tobacco cigarettes were, while the amount of exhaled carbon monoxide remained at baseline levels. In the long-term analysis, results showed that the smokers were more likely to trade in their tobacco cigarettes for e-cigs and taper off their tobacco use.
At the end of the 8-month study, 21% of all participants had stopped smoking tobacco entirely (verified via a CO test), whereas an additional 23% reported cutting the number of tobacco cigarettes they smoked per day by half.
Across all three groups, the number of tobacco cigarettes smoked per day decreased by 60%.
"All the groups showed similar results after we introduced the e-cigs," concluded Professor Frank Baeyens and postdoctoral researcher Dinska Van Gucht of the Psychology of Learning and Experimental Psychopathology Unit. "With guidance on practical use, the nicotine e-cig offers many smokers a successful alternative for smoking less - or even quitting altogether. E-cig users get the experience of smoking a cigarette and inhale nicotine vapor, but do not suffer the damaging effects of a tobacco cigarette."
"By comparison: of all the smokers who quit using nothing but willpower, only 3 to 5% remain smoke-free for 6 to 12 months after quitting," says Baeyens.
Nicotine e-cigs are currently banned in Belgium. In light of their study results, the researchers are now urging for a new legal framework for nicotine vaping in Belgium. All neighboring countries allow the sale of nicotine e-cigs.