Vaping Does Not Help Smokers Stop Using Traditional Cigarettes, Study Finds

Findings refute marketing claims by JUUL and similar e-cigarette manufacturers, which some argue created the teen vaping epidemic in the U.S.

Contrary to claims made by manufacturers of JUUL and other e-cigarette products that have flooded the market over the past decade, a new study indicates that vaping is not actually an effective way to quit smoking.

Cigarette smokers who try to quit by switching to e-cigarettes often end up relapsing and smoking cigarettes again, according to findings published October 19, in the JAMA Network Open.

The findings appear to refute a claim many e-cigarette companies have made over the years that vaping or using e-cigarettes is an effective means of smoking cessation. However, critics indicate that this opened the door for JUUL and other products that have been marketed as an alternative to smoking, leading to the teen vaping epidemic in the United States.

Researchers at the UC San Diego Institute for Public Health in the Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Sciences conducted a study of more than 14,000 US adults that participated in four waves of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study conducted from 2013 to 2017.

The study included three annual surveys. Participants who were included in the study smoked at baseline, had recently quit at the first follow-up and completed the second follow-up survey to determine if their method of quitting helped them stay cigarette-free in the long run.

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According to the findings, 9% of the participants who smoked tobacco cigarettes became recent former smokers one year later. Of these participants, 23% had switched to e-cigarettes and 18% admitted to vaping daily.

Of the participants who quit, 37% used a non-cigarette tobacco product and 63% were tobacco free.

Roughly 50% of smokers who quit cold turkey stayed off cigarettes by the second follow-up. However, only 42% of smokers who used other tobacco forms, like e-cigarettes, hookah, or snuff, had quit successfully.

Researchers indicate those who use e-cigarettes, or other forms of tobacco, to quit smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes were nearly 9% more likely to relapse and start smoking again within two years. Switching to any tobacco product, e-cigarette, hookah or anything else, was linked with higher relapse rates than being tobacco free.

The data suggests rates for switching to e-cigarettes were highest for those who smoked cigarettes the most. Switching rates were also highest among users who were white and who had higher incomes.

The findings support prior studies which have indicated vaping increases the risk a person will relapse and smoke tobacco cigarettes.

Prior studies have also found using e-cigarettes to quit smoking has only short term benefits and does not help users quit tobacco cigarettes in the long run. Individuals who switched from cigarettes to e-cigarettes were more likely to quit, but they were also more likely to relapse and take up smoking cigarettes again and quit again before finally relapsing.

Currently, e-cigarettes are not approved as a smoking cessation device. However, many smokers turn to vaping as a way to quit because of e-cigarette company ads advocating for that cause. Other studies show non-traditional flavors, like candy-like vape flavors, and higher nicotine delivery rates in products like JUUL entice users to continue using nicotine products including cigarettes.

Research published in 2015 indicated using e-cigarettes may be just as addictive as smoking tobacco cigarettes.

“This large US nationally representative study does not support the hypothesis that switching to e-cigarettes will prevent relapse to cigarette smoking,” the researchers concluded.

This is the first study to report on whether smokers can switch to e-cigarettes as a viable quitting method and not relapse back to smoking tobacco cigarettes. The study did not look at other methods of quitting, like nicotine replacement therapy which includes patches, gum and lozenges containing nicotine to help people quit.


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