While some proponents of "vaping" claim that smokers who try e-cigarettes may use them as a bridge to quitting smoking, a new study finds that the opposite may true.
The study, published April 16 in the American Journal of Public Health, found that smokers who used e-cigarettes were less likely to quit regular cigarettes than those who hadn't tried the devices.
A team led by Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy, chief of the division of global public health at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, followed 1,000 California smokers for one year.
The researchers found that smokers who said they had ever used e-cigarettes were about half as likely to cut down on their smoking and 59 percent less likely to quit, compared to those who never used e-cigarettes.
"Based on the idea that smokers use e-cigarettes to quit smoking, we hypothesized that smokers who used these products would be more successful in quitting," Al-Delaimy said. "But the research revealed the contrary."
Two anti-smoking experts said the study casts doubt on the notion of e-cigarettes as a smoking-cessation aid.
"These results confirm the potential harm e-cigarettes cause smokers, in that they may not only result in continued smoking but they may also discourage or delay quit attempts," said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
She believes that "the knowledge gap about electronic cigarettes is currently being filled in large part by e-cigarette industry advertising rather than scientific information."
But one industry representative took issue with the new study.
"Asking smokers about their 'ever use' of a product, and then somehow attributing that 'ever use' to their subsequent success or failure to quit smoking months or years down the line, is dishonest and unethical," said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association.
He said that to keep "credibility," the researchers should "have also sought out data about the relationship between 'ever use' of nicotine replacement therapy products like the gum and patch and a smoker's ability to quit."
Dr. Harlan Weinberg is medical director of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He believes that more research on the issue is needed.
"There are no currently accepted guidelines for the use of e-cigarettes regarding smoking-cessation efficacy or as a cessation tool," he pointed out. "Their rapid use among the general population and as a social phenomenon require a more thorough evaluation regarding their safety and effectiveness."
Study author Al-Delaimy concurred. "We need further studies to answer why [smokers using e-cigarettes] cannot quit," he said. "One hypothesis is that smokers are receiving an increase in nicotine dose by using e-cigarettes."
Over the past two years a number of leading medical groups, including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Medical Association, have called for increased regulation of the sale and advertising of e-cigarettes, citing health concerns.