E-cigarette are nearly twice as effective as nicotine gum or patches at helping people quit smoking, a landmark trial has found.
The NHS-funded study identified ‘vaping’ as six times more effective than trying to kick the habit alone.
Officials last night called for health professionals to start recommending the devices far more widely. They said staff at stop-smoking services have been too reluctant to endorse e-cigarettes.
Martin Dockrell, who is in charge of tobacco control at Public Health England, said: ‘This landmark research shows that switching to an e-cigarette can be one of the most effective ways to quit smoking, especially when combined with face-to-face support.
‘All stop smoking services should welcome smokers who want to quit with the help of an e-cigarette.’
The research of 900 smokers, led by experts at Queen Mary University of London, found 18 per cent of people stopped smoking a year after taking up e-cigarettes.
Only 10 per cent of those who tried nicotine patches, gum or sprays managed to quit – along with just 3 per cent of those who attempted to give up smoking unaided.
Study author professor Peter Hajek said: ‘This is the first trial to test the efficacy of modern e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit.
‘E-cigarettes were almost twice as effective as the “gold standard” combination of nicotine replacement products. Although a large number of smokers report they have quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes, health professionals have been reluctant to recommend them because of the lack of clear evidence [from trials].’
All participants in the study, which was funded by the NHS National Institute for Health Research and published in the respected New England Journal of Medicine, also had weekly face-to-face support.
Co-author Dunja Przulj said: ‘The UK specialist stop smoking services will now be more likely to include e-cigarettes among their treatment options, and health professionals will feel more comfortable in recommending e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking intervention.’
Professor Robert West of University College London, said: ‘Given that e-cigs may cause some harm when used over many years I would encourage users to think of them as a stop-gap, but they are far better than smoking – ex-smokers should not stop using them if they are worried they may go back to cigarettes.’
However, US doctors – who are generally more cautious about e-cigarettes – pointed out that 82 % of smokers still failed to quit even when using e-cigarettes.
And of those who did kick the habit, 80 % were left hooked on e-cigarettes instead, which raises concerns about the impact of long-term vaping.
Last night scientists at Boston University reiterated their caution – and said smokers should only be given e-cigarettes if they have failed to quit using other methods.
And the head of the US Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, has said he is so concerned about teenage use of the devices that he is considering banning them completely.