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E-cigarettes help to quit smoking without increasing nicotine dependence: study

August 22, 2022

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Electronic cigarettes may help people decrease their dependence on combustible cigarettes without increasing their overall nicotine dependence, a new study has found.

The study by the researchers from the Center for Research on Tobacco and Health at the Pennsylvania State University in the US investigated a common question — whether initiation of e-cigarette use to reduce cigarette smoking could potentially increase nicotine dependence.

“Research on this topic is conflicted because, in prior studies, participants used their own devices with unknown nicotine delivery profiles,” Jessica Yingst, assistant professor of public health sciences and Penn State Cancer Institute researcher, said.

“Our study used devices with known nicotine delivery profiles, which allowed us to effectively compare how the varying levels of nicotine in a device might affect user nicotine dependence and ability to reduce cigarette consumption.”

The researchers enrolled 520 participants interested in reducing their cigarette intake but with no plans or interest to quit smoking and instructed them to reduce their cigarette consumption over the six-month study period. Participants randomly received an e-cigarette that delivered 36, 8 or 0 mg/mL of nicotine, or a cigarette substitute that contained no tobacco, as an aid in their efforts to reduce their cigarette consumption.

At six months, all participants in the e-cigarette groups reported significant, decreased cigarette consumption, with those in the 36 mg/mL group smoking the least number of cigarettes per day. (Note: The UK regulations restrict e-liquids to a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml)

The study, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, also found that those in the e-cigarette groups reported significantly lower dependence on the Penn State Cigarette Dependence Index than those in the cigarette substitute group. E-cigarette dependence did not significantly change throughout the study, with the exception of participants in the 36 mg/mL group who saw significant, increased dependence over the course of the study, yet still much lower when compared with cigarette dependence.

“Our results suggest that using e-cigarettes or a cigarette substitute to reduce cigarette consumption can result in a reduction of self-reported cigarette use and dependence,” said Yingst. “Importantly, use of the high concentration e-cigarette did not increase overall nicotine dependence, and was associated with a greater reduction in cigarette smoking compared to the cigarette substitute.”