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Although there are serious health concerns associated with vaping e-cigarettes, the electronic devices continue to be a popular alternative to traditional smoking. However, new research suggests that e-cigarettes are no more effective than other aids in helping people stop smoking.
In a study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that the most effective way to get people to quit smoking was to offer them a financial incentive. While e-cigarettes are often advertised as the best method to help smokers quit, they were no more effective than offering smokers money to quit.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine enrolled more than 6,000 smokers from 54 companies across the U.S. in the study to help them quit smoking. They were randomly assigned to one of four smoking cessation interventions or to “usual care.”
Employees in the usual care group were given information about the benefits of quitting smoking and a motivational text-messaging service.
The other four groups consisted of free aids to quit smoking, like nicotine patches, gum, or medications, free e-cigarettes, free aids to quit smoking plus $600 in rewards for continued abstinence, and free quitting aids plus $600 in redeemable money for reaching quitting milestones.
Overall, people in the $600 money incentive group had the highest quit rates, at nearly 3%. People in the usual care group had abstinence rates at 0.1%, those in the cessation aids group only had rates at 0.5%, and employees given e-cigarettes to help them quit only had abstinence rates at 1%.
However, employees in the cessation aids plus rewards group had rates of 2%. Those were similar to the rates of those in the redeemable money group.
Employees given money to quit had the highest quit rates compared to the groups given patches, gum, and e-cigarettes.
Concerns regarding e-cigarettes have surfaced in recent years as studies indicate e-cigarettes may be just as addictive as traditional cigarettes. The devices have become the most popular form of tobacco among U.S. teens, potentially leading to a new generation of addiction.
This study differed from others that compared e-cigarettes to other methods of quitting because it enrolled a wide range of smokers, not just smokers already focusing and wanting to quit. Typically those who have a strong desire to quit are more successful.
Most employees in the study who were fully engaged in the trial had sustained quit rates 4 to 6 times as high as those who did not actively engage in the trial. They also were more likely to stay smoke free for six months after the target quit date.
Despite active engagement in the trial and a focus on quitting, these employees still did not have better quit rates when using aids to quit smoking, including e-cigarettes.
The findings are especially important as many smokers indicate they rely on e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking traditional cigarettes.