Teen use of e-cigarettes doubles in past year but may equal nicotine patches in helping smokers to quit or cut back

E-cigarettes use battery-operated products that turn nicotine
and other chemicals into vapor to be inhaled by the user.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, may actually benefit smokers who want to quit by helping them smoke fewer cigarettes and doing as good a job as nicotine patches to help them quit the habit, says a new study.

The report is the first of its kind to shine a potentially positive light on the public-health debate about e-cigarettes, which are not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and have generated concern from U.S. health officials and public health experts; the Centers for Disease Control says they are addictive and could be dangerous.

However, Chris Bullen of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and colleagues recruited 657 participants who wanted to quit smoking for a study, finding that e-cigarettes were just as effective as nicotine patches in doing this, reports Maggie Fox of NBC News.

“While our results don’t show any clear-cut differences between e-cigarettes and patches in terms of quit success after six months, it certainly seems that e-cigarettes were more effective in helping smokers who didn’t quit to cut down,” Bullen said.

The study, which was published in the British medical journal The Lancet, found that 57 percent of volunteers given real e-cigarettes were smoking half as many cigarettes a day as before, compared to 41 percent of those who got patches.

The study’s findings also show that participants were more enthusiastic about using e-cigarettes as a means of quitting, compared to patches, suggesting that the product may have greater consumer acceptability, Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the anti-tobacco Legacy Foundation, told NBC News.

E-cigarettes are already becoming more popular among young consumers. The CDC and FDA released a report on Thursday showing that the number of high school students who have tried them in the past year has doubled – to an estimated 1.78 million or 10 percent of middle and high school students. This trend raises concerns among public health professionals.
CDC researchers worry that e-cigarettes might be a gateway to conventional tobacco products, but it’s not known whether e-cigarettes may lead young people to try cigarettes or other tobacco products, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death, says the FDA. It’s also unknown whether e-cigarettes are safe or how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during their use, says the FDA website.

Nicotine itself may also be harmful, said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. “We are particularly concerned about adolescents being exposed to nicotine in any form because it has the potential to impact their brain development.”

Another unknown is whether e-cigarette use has potential benefits, says the FDA, but this new study suggests two: helping smokers to quit or lessen smoking. The study’s authors do agree with public health advocates, saying that additional research is needed to study long-term e-cigarette use and “to clearly establish their overall benefits and harms at
both individual and population levels.”

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