Smokers who switch to e-cigs are 10% more likely to relapse

Smokers who switch to e-cigs instead of quitting all tobacco products are 10% more likely to relapse and use cigarettes again, study finds

  • A person who drops cigarettes for e-cigarettes is less likely to successfully quit smoking than someone who drops tobacco entirely, a new study finds
  • More than 50% of people who dropped tobacco did not relapse within the next year compared to 42% of those who used tobacco-based replacement 
  • There was little difference found between people who switched to e-cigarettes versus switched to another tobacco-based cigarette replacement 
  • E-cigarettes have largely been blamed for a recent uptick in youth tobacco use, and some legislators are pushing to ban flavored versions of the devices 

E-cigarettes have been promoted as devices that can help a person ditch tobacco entirely – but they may not be having the positive effects that many think are.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) conducted a multi-year study to determine if people who switched to e-cigarettes were able to drop all tobacco use in the near future.

Instead, they found e-cigarettes were not effective at getting a person to stop smoking traditional cigarettes.

People who dropped cigarettes for another tobacco product in an attempt to quit were around 42 percent likely to have quit tobacco a year later.

Those who dropped all tobacco, instead of trying to ween themselves off using products like e-cigarettes, were 50 percent likely to have quit a year later 

This means vape users were more 10 percent more likely to relapse than those who quit all tobacco products.

While e-cigarettes have been promoted as an effective way to ween a person off of cigarettes, a study finds that they are not any more effective at preventing. More than 50% of people who dropped tobacco did not relapse within the next year compared to 42% of those who used tobacco-based replacement

‘Our findings suggest that individuals who quit smoking and switched to e-cigarettes or other tobacco products actually increased their risk of a relapse back to smoking over the next year by 8.5 percentage points compared to those who quit using all tobacco products,’ said Dr John Pierce, first author of the study and professor at UCSD, in a statement.

‘Quitting is the most important thing a smoker can do to improve their health, but the evidence indicates that switching to e-cigarettes made it less likely, not more likely, to stay off of cigarettes.’

Researchers, who published their findings Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, used data from the annual Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) survey conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They investigated data from 2013 to 2017 and identified participants who took part in sequential surveys.

Researchers found 9.4 percent of smokers who reported cigarette usage in the first annual survey had quit a year later.

Of those, 62.9 percent had dropped tobacco entirely while 37.1 percent had begun using a new tobacco product. 

Nearly one in every four of that group had taken up e-cigarettes, and one in every five reported using their device every day.

People who switched to e-cigarettes and other non-cigarette tobacco products, were found to have a decreased chance of having dropped tobacco a year later.

A total of 50.5 percent of those who dropped tobacco entirely were able to stop smoking cigarettes compared to 41.6 of those using e-cigarettes.

This means stopping all tobacco use was 10 percent more effective at preventing relapse than vaping.  

Little difference was found between any of the tobacco-based cigarette replacements in ability to prevent a person from relapsing, whether e-cigarettes, cigars or other combusted tobacco.

Tobacco usage among young people has increased in recent years, with e-cigarettes being partially blamed. Some legislators are pushing to ban flavored e-cigarettes (file image)

‘This is the first study to take a deep look at whether switching to a less harmful nicotine source can be maintained over time without relapsing to cigarette smoking,’ said Pierce. 

‘If switching to e-cigarettes was a viable way to quit cigarette smoking, then those who switched to e-cigarettes should have much lower relapse rates to cigarette smoking. We found no evidence of this.’ 

While e-cigarettes were previously seen as a key tool in reducing smoking in America, the reputation of the devices has been diminished in recent years.

Devices like e-cigarettes a vapes, specifically ones that are flavored, have been blamed for a recent uptick in youth tobacco and nicotine use.

Some cities, like San Francisco, have banned flavored nicotine in an effort to curb youth smoking.

Legislators are also pressuring the FDA to ban on flavored e-cigarette devices nationally. 

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