Vaping May Not Help People Quit Smoking After All

Illustration for article titled Vaping May Not Help People Quit Smoking After All
Photo: lindsayfox (Pixabay)

One of the biggest arguments in favor of vaping is that it can help people ease themselves away from their addiction to tobacco smoking. But a new study published this week in PLoS One seems to offer a strong rebuttal to that line of thought. It suggests that people who use both tobacco and e-cigarettes are actually less likely to quit smoking than people who only stick to tobacco.

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The researchers studied data from survey company GfK’s KnowledgePanel, an ongoing service that offers small cash rewards to users for every survey taken. They looked at data from more than 1,200 smokers who had been surveyed in August and September of 2015, then continued to track their smoking status. Of the 1,000 people who remained active members of KnowledgePanel a year later, around 850 answered a followup survey.

Roughly 30 percent of people at the beginning of the survey said they both smoked and vaped. But a year later, 90 percent said they still smoked. People who only smoked, however, were actually twice as likely to report quitting. The lower chances of success among users of e-cigarettes, or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), held true even if people said they turned to vaping as a way to quit. And dual users, on average, still smoked the same amount of cigarettes a day as non-vapers did a year later.

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“Any smoker would tell you that quitting smoking is extremely difficult,” lead author Scott Weaver, an epidemiologist at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, told Gizmodo via email. “But, that nicotine addiction is difficult to overcome doesn’t readily explain why smokers who also used e-cigarettes were less likely to quit than smokers who did not use e-cigarettes, even though they, the dual users, were more likely to try to quit smoking.”

Some earlier studies have suggested that switching to vaping can help cut down on smoking. According to Weaver, though, these studies might be dated or otherwise unrepresentative of how people’s habits are actually changed by these devices.

“In the ‘real world,’ the e-cigarette product landscape is highly diverse, and communications about their health effects and use for smoking cessation are inconsistent,” he said. “Most of these products do not match the nicotine delivery profile of the cigarette. Many smokers who try e-cigarettes find them insufficient at suppressing their nicotine cravings and either give them up (returning to exclusive cigarette smoking) or continue to smoke and vape.”

Given that dual users were less likely to quit in the study, Weaver even suggests there’s something unique about dual use that hinders a person’s attempts to quit, such as higher doses of nicotine.

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“Or it might be the way smokers can use e-cigarettes to complement their nicotine uptake and alleviate withdrawal symptoms in situations when they cannot smoke, possibly undermining the impact of smoke-free restrictions,” Weaver added. “Some may also continue to smoke and vape under the misperception that cutting back on cigarettes is sufficient, while uncertainty and confusion about the health risks of e-cigarettes may lead to ambivalence about making a complete switch to e-cigarettes.”

Weaver doesn’t rule out the possibility that e-cigarettes could still be a cessation aid, with changes in their design as well as how they’re marketed and regulated. But even these changes might be too slow and ineffectual on their own. He points to recent efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to lower the nicotine content of traditional tobacco cigarettes as an example of a more meaningful and immediate solution.

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“We can work on these [changes] while we continue to promote evidence-based policies, education campaigns, and cessation approaches that we know are effective,” he said.

Weaver and his team plan to continue studying how perceptions of smoking and e-cigarettes affect smokers’ decisions and patterns of use of e-cigarettes, as well as how smokers are reacting to newer types of e-cigarettes and possible new tobacco and e-cigarette regulations from the FDA.

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[PLoS One]

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere

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DISCUSSION

pitfallharry
Pitfall Harry

The study shows what all smokers already know. Vaping is bulls***. Here’s what happens: a pack-a-day smoker (that’s 20 cigs to all you young’uns) gets a vape device, thinking “hey, at least there’s no tar or smoke or anything!” However, because it’s easy to hide, he starts sneaking vapes at his desk during the day. Then he goes out to have a smoke break and his smoking buddies are inhaling the Real Stuff. So you start vaping, have a couple of cigarettes worth of nicotine (it’s very hard to gauge when you’ve smoked the equivalent of one cigarette, as the body has become fine-tuned to its smoky nicotine delivery system after years of training), and then, guess what? Before you all go in, you ask your coworker for a real cigarette, and smoke that, too. In a very short time, the new ‘vapee’ is inhaling twice the amount of nicotine each day, because the vapes now complement the actual cigarettes, so you vape when you’re somewhere that is ‘non-smoking,’ (which is most of the day for most of us), and then smoke the real stuff, taking the same amount of smoke breaks, per day! So then you try to stop the vape, because you realize it’s BS, but when you do, you find one pack a day isn’t enough anymore! C’mon folks, did anyone REALLY think this would work? Sheesh. And guess what: if you fell for the whole ‘I just vape, I never smoke - ew, gross, look at those ‘old fashioned’ nicotine addicts!’ Well, guess what: you forgot your vape pen or it blew up or whatever, and you’re at a party. It’s all old folks, and you’re stressed. You reach for your vape stick but it’s gone.... and these people are smoking Lucky Strikes. Come to think of it, they do look pretty satisfying, those smoky oldster butts. You’re already programmed to want to inhale the stuff, so yeah, you’ll definitely be up for trying a Real smoke at some point. Guaranteed. Maybe you’ll cough the first few times, but trust me, once you’ve tried the real thing, burned from the tip of a stinking, noxious ember, and bring that rich, grey pollution deep into your air sacs, it’s only a matter of time before you’re telling folks you quit vaping but took up smoking. I’ve been a smoker for 22 years. Jesus Christ.