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Study Questions If E-Cigarettes Can Help People Quit Smoking

By Matt McConnell

Monday April 14, 2014
Studies show that electronic cigarettes may be able to help you with your smoking habit.
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If it was easy to quit smoking, the pie chart above would not exist.  Smoking is a serious issue and the costs that our society bears is immeasurable. Given the grim statistics, the more weapons deployed in the fight to reduce tobacco harm the better.

It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.  Nicotine patches have a very low success rate. Medications do not fare much better.  When we limit smoking cessation options to methods that have performed poorly, is that not insane?

If there are 500 ways to quit smoking cigarettes, it’s not enough.  We need more and we should not overlook any potential help to combat the clear dangers of tobacco.  Every year smoking kills the equivalent of a large city. Be that as it may, many in the academic and medical establishment continue to malign the possibilities potentially afforded by e-cigarettes.

The national media spotlight has once again focused its attention on e cigarettes following the release of a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco.  The study questions if e cigarettes can help people quit smoking and if e cigarettes are an effective tobacco alternative.

The conclusion of many is that the data shows that e cigarettes are not a better smoking cessation option and are not even effective at helping people reduce their tobacco use.  Closer examination of the actual data collected shows several flaws with the conclusions that are currently being widely reported.

Lead researcher Dr. Rachel Grana has appeared on network television discussing the study and she has been quoted in newspaper publications from coast to coast.  A Team ECCR reporter also interviewed Dr. Grana after we examined the survey questions and data.  While the survey does raise important questions, the data simply does not support the reported conclusion that e cigarettes do not help people quit smoking nor is there any basis to suggest that e cigarette users do not reduce their tobacco usage.

The Study

quit_smoking-with-ecigs
The study was actually a survey of 1000 smokers that were located by GFK, a market research company.  While all of the headlines that have resulted from this study relate to the data regarding e cigarettes, it is important to note that this was not a survey of e cigarette users.  This was a sampling of smokers.

Researchers were examining year over year data of smokers with reference to their smoking habits, reported intention to quit, and their quitting success rates.  People were surveyed in 2011 and then again in 2012 to study changes in smoking habits.  Of the 1000 smokers selected for the survey, only 88 reported themselves as being e cigarette users.  It is certainly noteworthy that a survey that dealt with only 88 e cigarette users created national headlines.

The survey asked several questions about personal smoking habits.  For example they asked how many cigarettes each respondent smoked per day.  It asked about the intention to quit and the targeted time frame.  They also asked how many people were e cigarette users.  Again, despite what the headlines indicate, this was not a study of e cigarettes as only 88 e cigarette users were involved.

The Results

Of the 88 e cigarette users surveyed results indicated no major decrease in the number of tobacco cigarettes smoked per day from 2011 to 2012.  Additionally, the survey indicated the e cigarette users apparently did not have a higher success rate when it came to quitting.  Researchers stated, “e cigarette use did not predict quitting.”

The Break Down

The survey questions did not reveal a great deal of relevant data about e cigarettes.  The conclusion that e cigarettes do not help people quit is rather shaky given the fact that this study was not directed at e cigarette users with the intention of quitting.  Researchers themselves have admitted that the sample size and motivations of the people surveyed make any conclusions about e cigarettes based on their data problematic.

“We did not have data from a time point before the initial assessment in 2011.” Lead researcher Dr. Grana.

Regarding the assertion that that the survey indicates that e cigarette users do not decrease their tobacco use, I contacted lead researcher Dr. Rachel Grana on behalf of ECCR to inquire if any data was collected regarding the tobacco usage of e cigarette users prior to their use of e cigarettes.  Dr. Grana had this reply, “we did not have data from a time point before the initial assessment in 2011.

In our analysis we recruited and surveyed a sample of smokers in 2011 and re-surveyed them at follow-up one year later (2012). We asked about e-cigarette use (as well as the other variables in the analysis) in the initial survey and quitting behavior at follow-up.”

The question of whether or not the 88 e cigarette users that participated in this survey reduced tobacco use thanks to e cigarettes can only be known if we consider their smoking habits prior to using e cigarettes. This survey does not answer that question.  Therefore any claim that e cigarettes do not lead to reduced cigarette smoking is unfounded.

Ultimately, the data that matters most is the loss of 450,000 people per year.  Until we find the ultimate panacea, the singular, perfect solution that will fully eradicate tobacco from our lives, we need to keep an open mind toward the potential of e cigarettes to save lives.

We will continue to monitor the most recent news, analyze the data, interview newsmakers and bring you the real, unbiased story.  Until next time, stay classy, vapers!

Matt
Team ECCR

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