Jan. 31 (UPI) -- E-cigarettes can safely help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes, a new study says.
People who used e-cigarettes to stop smoking had nearly twice the one-year abstinence rate of those who used nicotine-replacement therapy, according to a study published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
"It is the first study to use the newest form of e-cigarette in a long-term trial, and compare it to FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy in a randomized trial," Belinda Borrelli, who runs the Center for Behavioral Science Research at Boston University, told UPI. "Other strengths of the study include biochemical verification of smoking outcomes -- the nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) arm had a choice of products (gum, patch, etc) and could switch between them if they wanted, the e-cig arm had a choice of e-liquids, and it was a pragmatic trial conducted in a real-world setting."
Still, NRTs have a long-term record of success, with six-month abstinence rates of about 26 percent and one-year rates of 20 percent.
Plus, e-cigarettes come with unknown health effects. People who smoke e-cigarettes have a 72 percent higher risk of stroke and a 51 percent higher risk heart attack and angina, according to one recent study. It also reports that e-cigarette users smoke, or vape, at double the rate of people who smoke traditional cigarettes.
That's why the researchers recommend smokers use FDA-approved NRTs to quit smoking first, and then turn to e-cigs only as a last resort -- and either method should be accompanied by behavioral therapy.
"There is substantial evidence that e-cigarettes have less risk than traditional combustible cigarettes, but they are not without risks," Borrelli said. "E-cigs have many of the same toxicants of traditional cigs but at lower levels. In addition, some flavorings of e-cigs have been shown to be harmful. There are not enough studies on the safety of e-cigarettes for general smokers, as well as those who are at high risk, such as those with cardiovascular disease or lung disease. One reason is that there are over 400 brands of e-cigarettes and they vary substantially."
Borrelli also warns people not to look at e-cigarettes as a magic cure to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes.
"Another 'side effect' of e-cigarettes is the potential for 'renormalization' of addiction," Borelli said. "If there are increases in adult use, will that increase use further by children and young adults?"
"It is too early to be making practice changing recommendations on the basis of one study that only had 79 people," she cautioned, however, suggesting that more research is still needed.