E-cigarettes have revolutionized the smoking industry in the recent past. More people taking up "vaping" has caused an increase in the number of first time users who do not want to use tobacco cigarettes, which have been known to cause cancer.

But, are e-cigarettes a way to cut down on tobacco cigarettes for people addicted to the traditional nicotine delivery system?

A recent study led by a Hollings Cancer Center researcher found that smokers who are willing to use e-cigarettes tend to smoke less and try to quit more than people who smoke tobacco.

“Combustible cigarettes are the most harmful form of nicotine delivery. Alternative delivery of nicotine, through e-cigarettes, could significantly reduce harm and the risks of cancer and other diseases to smokers,” said Matthew Carpenter, Ph.D., a tobacco control and addiction expert at the cancer center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in a press release.



The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, evaluated e-cigarettes and compared it to usage, product preference, changes in smoking behaviors and nicotine exposure of existing smokers of traditional cigarettes who switched to the presumably healthier alternative.

Sixty-eight smokers were evaluated: 46 were randomized to use e-cigarettes however they wished, and 22 were randomized to a control group, said the release.

The group which was allowed to use e-cigs was given a device with either high or low doses of nicotine and this remained constant throughout the duration of the study. The subjects were tracked for a period of four months.

Results showed that when smokers were given e-cigarettes without any accompanying instructions or requirements for use, uptake was strong, and many participants went on to purchase their own e-cigarettes.

This suggests that e-cigarettes might give smokers a suitable alternative to combustible cigarettes but were also just as addictive for previous non-nicotine dependent folk.

But, those who used e-cigarettes smoked less in general and were more likely to try and succeed at quitting smoking traditional cigarettes if they were addicted to them in the first place and decide to switch to e-cigarettes.

“The results are consistent with trials done outside the U.S.,” Carpenter said in the release. “Many people rated the e-cigarettes similar to their usual product, which further suggests that these products might promote switching. Anything that gets smokers off combustible cigarettes is a good thing.”

Of the two e-cigarette models used in the study, the more powerful device, with a higher dose of nicotine, showed stronger outcomes. 

The study found that people who never smoked tobacco but smoked e-cigarettes, smoked an average of 37 percent less. This was seen by Carpenter as a positive result.

Smoking is the leading cause of cancer and has a negative impact on the effectiveness of cancer treatments. People who quit smoking, regardless of their age, have substantial gains in life expectancy compared with those who continue to smoke.

Carpenter cautions that while e-cigarettes may help people smoke less or even quit, they are not for everyone. “It is important to protect non-smokers, particularly adolescents and young adults, from starting any nicotine-containing product. This is something we need to really guard against.”

The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in November and is one of the few randomized studies in the U.S. to examine the effects of e-cigarettes and quit attempts.