THE MYTH: Vaping does not help people stop smoking completely

 

  • Most smokers find it extremely hard to stop but stopping is the best thing they can do for their health. So governments around the world have rightly tried to encourage them, allowing nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) to be marketed as effective quitting tools. But, while their use has been marketed to smokers as doubling the chances of successfully quitting, the raw numbers show how few manage to stay away from cigarettes thanks to NRT. All of the studies to date show that vaping is more effecetive at helping smokers switch, than NRT is at helping them quit.
  • A 2019 randomized control trial – the “gold standard” when determining whether an intervention works – split 886 current smokers into two groups; with one given NRT and behavioral support, and the other given a vaping kit and offered advice on how to use it. Participants that were given the vaping kit were twice as likely not to be smoking after one year than those given NRT (determined by measuring carbon monoxide levels in exhaled breath under clinical conditions). The vaping group saw an abstinence rate of 18% compared with 9.9% in the NRT group. The trial was funded by Cancer Research UK with no industry participation.

abstinence rates

  • Survey data from the European Commission shows an even higher success rate for vaping product users. According to a 2020 Eurobarometer survey, with participants in all EU Member States plus the United Kingdom, one in three vapers told researchers that they had “stopped smoking tobacco completely”, three times the rate at which the NRT group from Hajek (2019) stopped smoking. This is a significant increase from the rate at which vapers told Eurobarometer they had stopped smoking three years earlier; in the 2017 Eurobarometer, 14% claimed to have stopped completely. This indicates that the development of vaping technologies is improving and getting better at helping smokers make better choices. 
  • The 2021 vaping evidence update from Public Health England looked specifically at the question of smokers switching. The report concludes that in just one year – 2017 – 50,000 people who would otherwise have continued to smoke switched completely to vaping. It goes on to note that

vaping products are “significantly more effective for helping people stop smoking than NRT”

References

  • Hajek et al (2019), A Randomized Trial of E-Cigarettes versus Nicotine-Replacement Therapy, New England Journal of Medicine 380:629-637 Link
  • European Commission (2021) Attitudes of Europeans towards tobacco and electronic cigarettes Link
  • Public Health England (2021); Vaping in England: 2021 evidence update Link 

Smoking among young people keeps going down despite the rise of vaping products. If vaping leads to smoking, then where are all the extra smokers?