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May 20, 2014 10:10 AM EDT

E-Cigarettes Use Associated With Quitting Success

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People who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to quit smoking, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University College London found that people attempting to quit smoking without professional help are about 60 percent more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes then if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum.

E-cigarettes are deemed as a safer and healthy alternative to tobacco smoking.

"E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking," Robert West, senior author of the study and professor at the University of London's Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, said in a statement. "However, we should also recognize that the strongest evidence remains for use of the NHS stop-smoking services. These almost triple a smoker's odds of successfully quitting compared with going it alone or relying on over-the-counter products."

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 5,800 smoker between2009 and 2014 who had attempted to quit smoking without the aid of prescription medication or professional support.  Twenty percent of people trying to quit with the aid of e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking conventional cigarettes at the time of the survey.

Another survey by the second team found that most e-cigarette use involves first generation "cigalike" products rather than second generation ones that use refillable cartridges and a wider choice of nicotine concentrations and flavors. 

Researchers said it is not clear whether long-term use of e-cigarettes carries health risks but from what is known about the contents of the vapor these will be much less than from smoking.

"Some public health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of e-cigarettes could 're-normalize' smoking," West said. "However, we are tracking this very closely and see no evidence of it. Smoking rates in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing and regular e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible."

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