Electronic cigarettes—a tobacco-free alternative to traditional cigarettes that generated more than $400 million in sales last year—have ignited controversy throughout the country as politicians and public health officials decide whether to include them in wide-reaching smoking bans.
But researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston have found that regular use of e-cigarettes may benefit smokers who are trying to kick the habit. The new study from the Center for Survey Research shows that smokers who used e-cigarettes daily for at least one month were six times as likely to quit smoking altogether, compared to those who rarely or never tried one.
“This study provides strong support for the potential harm-reducing value of electronic cigarettes, which allow smokers to get the nicotine they want without exposing themselves to the 4,000 toxic chemicals in tobacco cigarettes,” said Lois Biener, the study’s lead author.
The study, published online ahead of print in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, is the first to follow a representative sample of smokers over the course of three years—during a time when e-cigarettes have become widely available across the country. The authors found that two out of three smokers had tried the new non-tobacco products, and that over 1 in 5 smokers were “intensive users,” defined as having used the vapor-producing products daily for a month or more.
Researchers Biener and Lee Hargraves tracked 695 smokers in two major metropolitan areas—Dallas/Fort Worth and Indianapolis. Thirteen percent of them had quit smoking entirely at the three-year follow-up. When considering gender, race, and other differences among smokers, the intensive users were six times as likely to have quit as nonusers and those who had tried the product once or twice.
Prior studies showing no relationships between e-cigarette use and cessation did not group respondents by frequency of use. Further research is needed to isolate the reasons some smokers use e-cigarettes intensively and some do not, in order to better understand how to maximize effectiveness for cessation.
“Policy makers need to think carefully before enacting any laws that make adult smokers less likely to try these products, such as taxing e-cigarettes as heavily as tobacco or eliminating flavors," Biener said.
The research was supported with funding from the U.S. National Cancer Institute. The study can be found here.
About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research addressing complex issues, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.