A combination of nicotine-based e-cigarettes and talking therapy may be twice as effective in helping long-time smokers quit – compared to receiving counselling alone, according to research.
Scientists have found that more people quit smoking after using nicotine e-cigarettes at 12 weeks, compared to those who did not use e-cigarettes.
But the team said there was less of a difference between the groups at 24 weeks.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), is based on a randomised controlled trial involving 376 participants.
Around a third (128) of the study participants underwent therapy with nicotine e-cigarettes and regular counselling sessions, while 127 volunteers were given e-cigarettes without nicotine alongside counselling.
The remainder (121 people) underwent only regular talking therapy sessions.
Results showed that after 12 weeks, 22% of the participants who had nicotine e-cigarettes in addition to receiving counselling had stopped smoking, compared to 9% of those who had just counselling.
But according to the researchers, the difference was less significant at 24 weeks – 17% of those in the nicotine e-cigarettes group still were not smoking, compared to 10% of those in the counselling group.
And among smokers who used e-cigarettes that did not contain nicotine, 21% had stopped smoking after 24 weeks of treatment.
John Britton, emeritus professor of epidemiology at University of Nottingham – who was not involved in the research, said: “This study demonstrates that using a nicotine-containing e-cigarette and counselling are approximately twice as likely to quit smoking than smokers receiving counselling alone.
“This difference was statistically significant at three months and although no longer statistically significant remained of similar relative magnitude at six months.”
However, the researchers said that interpretation of their findings is limited because their trial was stopped early, and further research is needed regarding long-term efficacy of e-cigarettes for giving up smoking.
Commenting on the research, Paul Aveyard, professor of behavioural medicine at University of Oxford – who was not involved in the study, said: “This is a well-conducted study that has one major weakness – it is too small to produce reliable evidence of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes.
“This is because the study was designed to be too small and then was unable to recruit its target number of people into the study because of problems making the e-cigarettes.”
He added: “However, this trial was the first to give us evidence on the benefits of e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine and it suggests that these may be modestly beneficial, but the unreliability of the trial means we remain uncertain.
“For anyone looking to stop smoking and considering using an e-cigarette, the best advice remains to use an e-cigarette with e-liquid that contains nicotine.”