Do e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?

There are quicker ways to die young than smoking cigarettes.

But despite the dangers, nicotine addicts find it almost impossible to kick the harmful habit.

Half of those who try to quit smoking fail within a week.

Less than 5% manage to stay clean for a year or more. Crutches like nicotine patches or chewing gum that provide nicotine to the body can help, but only a little.

One reason is that addiction is much more than simple chemistry. Rituals like holding a cigarette between your fingers or taking a deep breath of tobacco smoke are just as habit-forming as nicotine itself.

So a better way to stop smoking is to invent a system that mimics a regular cigarette as closely as possible, but without the carcinogens and poisons substances that are released during combustion.

Electronic cigarettes seem to be a good solution. They use a small electric vaporizer and a combination of glycerin and propylene glycol (two relatively harmless chemicals) in which nicotine is dissolved.

The vapor produced replaces tobacco smoke, and some of the e-cigarettes are just like the real thing, so they can be held between the fingers.

However, the newness of e-cigarettes (the first hit the market in 2006) means there is only a cursory knowledge of whether they actually help smokers. According to a study published by the international medical scientific organization Cochrane Collaboration, the results are encouraging.

The study authors, led by Peter Hayek of Queen Mary University College London, looked at the results of 13 studies of e-cigarettes.

One part of the people was given electronic cigarettes, and the other – a placebo without nicotine. About 9% of people using e-cigarettes in these studies were able to abstain from smoking for six months, compared to 4% of those on placebo.

Quitting smoking is the ideal outcome, but limiting cigarettes is also good for you. Studies have shown that e-cigarettes are a good solution for those who cannot completely quit smoking, helping them to reduce their smoking.

About 27% of smokers who used a placebo, as well as 36% of those who used real e-cigarettes, were able to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked. 61% of e-cigarette users cut their cigarette consumption in half, compared to 44% of nicotine patch users.

Despite everything, the doctors make some arrangements. The studies included fewer people than required by standards for this type of research, Dr. Hayek points out. Because successful quitting smoking is rare, statisticians need to survey many people to get a clear signal.

Also, unlike conventional cigarettes, which are made by the big tobacco companies using standardized industrial processes, e-cigarettes are made by companies of various sizes, most of which are located in China.

Their quality is therefore variable. Residues of heavy metals were found in the vapor of some of the e-cigarettes, while others contained silica fibers that could cause lung irritation.

It is necessary to collect more data on the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes, according to the study authors, who are already conducting nine new studies.

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