E-cigarettes are almost three times more effective than nicotine replacement aids at helping smokers quit, research suggests.
Doctors found vapers were 95 per cent more likely to be successful than those not using the gadgets in their attempts to kick the habit.
In comparison, smokers prescribed nicotine replacement therapy, such as gums, patches and lozenges, were 34 per cent more likely to succeed.
The research of almost 20,000 smokers also found e-cigarettes were more successful than prescription drugs that reduce nicotine cravings.
University College London scientists found people given varenicline, marketed as Champix, were 82 per cent more likely to give up the habit.
Doctors found vapers were 95 per cent more likely to be successful than those not using the gadgets in their attempts to kick the habit
Charities have called on the NHS to recommend e-cigarettes to smokers on the back of the new evidence.
The gadgets are at the centre of a prescription row. Currently, they are not prescribed on the NHS – despite strong calls from public health bodies.
Concerned scientists warn there is not enough available data to confirm the gadgets, used by around three million people in Britain, are safe.
Experts have also warned millions of pounds may be being wasted on NRT aids, after the research rubbished their success rates.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, is thought to be one of the biggest to compare success rates of stop-smoking aids.
It tracked 18,929 smokers who had tried to give up. Successful quitters were those who claimed they were still not smoking 12 months later.
The research took into account factors that may have influenced quit rates, including age, social status and number of previous quit attempts.
NRT was only successful for patients prescribed it. Those who bought it from a shop were no more likely to kick the habit.
Lead author Dr Sarah Jackson said: ‘Stopping smoking reduces the risk of chronic diseases and increases quality of life and life expectancy.
‘It is therefore important that every quit attempt has the best possible chance of success.
‘Our study adds to growing evidence that use of e-cigarettes can help smokers to quit.’
She added: ‘It also raises concerns about the apparent lack of effectiveness of NRT bought from a shop.’
HOW COULD VAPING BE HARMFUL?
The flavourings in electronic cigarettes may damage blood vessels in the same way as heart disease, according to research published in June.
The chemicals used to give the vapour flavours, such as cinnamon, strawberry and banana, can cause inflammation in cells in the arteries, veins and heart.
They causes the body to react in a way that mimics the early signs of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes, the study by Boston University found.
Other recent studies have also suggested smoking e-cigarettes could cause DNA mutations which lead to cancer, and enable pneumonia-causing bacteria to stick to the lungs easier.
Researchers at New York University subjected human bladder and lung cells to e-cigarette vapor, which is marketed as being healthier than tobacco.
They found the cells mutated and became cancerous much faster than expected and mice exposed to the vapour also suffered significant DNA damage.
In another study, scientists at Queen Mary University, London, found vaping makes users more likely to catch pneumonia – just like smoking tobacco or breathing in traffic fumes.
The vapour from e-cigarettes helps bacteria which cause the condition to stick to the cells that line the airways, they said.
The effect occurs with traditional cigarette smoke and those who are exposed to air pollution high in particulates from vehicle exhausts.
Dr Jamie Brown, study co-author, said: ‘It is important that e-cigarettes appeared to be equally effective for smokers of all ages and social backgrounds.
‘Smoking is one of the biggest contributors to health inequality between rich and poor and the growth in e-cigarette use may ultimately start to reduce this gap.’
Experts have welcomed the findings of the Cancer Research UK-funded study into the benefits of smokers using e-cigarettes to kick the habit.
Dr Debbie Robson, a tobacco addiction researcher at King’s College London, said smokers should be wary that NRT ‘may not increase their chances of quitting’.
She added: ‘They [smokers] may well be better off investing in alternative nicotine replacement such as e-cigarettes.’
Dr Leonie Brose, senior lecturer at the National Addiction Centre, King’s College London, praised the research for being ‘robust’.
‘This is in line with what has already been found in randomised controlled trials and extends these findings to adult smokers in the real world,’ she added.
‘While success rates were similar for varenicline and vaping, vaping is much more popular among smokers trying to quit smoking and thus helped more smokers quit.’
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘This study highlights how crucial face-to-face support is for helping people to stop smoking.
‘This study also provides further evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective quitting tool. The choice to switch to e-cigarettes must be made easier.
‘Doctors and pharmacists should be very clear there’s a range of quitting tools available including e-cigarettes, and smokers can try vaping as a way to quit.’
Public Health England recommends e-cigs be prescribed on the NHS, claiming they are 95 per cent less harmful than cigarette smoking.
The NHS also states that the gadgets are ‘far less harmful than cigarettes’ and can help you quit smoking for good – but are currently not available.
Leading academics have criticised health officials for ‘promoting’ e-cigarettes despite growing evidence of their harms.
Professor Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, last month said there are grounds for ‘serious concerns’ about e-cigarettes.
Statistics show 270,000 people gave up smoking in the UK in 2017 – a trend that has been declining for the past decade.
A draft of Government plans have helped thousands more quit smoking, and Public Health England last year said the end was ‘in sight’.
The NHS says quitting smoking can boost your sex life, gives you more energy, improve your skin and help you live longer.
Martin Dockrell, tobacco control lead at PHE, said: ‘This is yet more evidence, adding to a major recent UK trial, that vaping offers some of the most effective help for smokers to quit smoking, especially when combined with expert support.
‘All we need for an e-cigarette to be available on prescription is for one to be licensed as a medicine.’
What is an e-cigarette and how is it different to smoking tobacco?
An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a device that allows users to inhale nicotine by heating a vapour from a solution that contain nicotine, propylene and flavourings.
As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke like a traditional cigarette.
But while they have been branded as carrying a lower risk than cigarettes, an increasing swell of studies is showing health dangers.
E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, but the vapor does contain some harmful chemicals.
Nicotine is the highly addictive chemical which makes it difficult for smokers to quit.
Nearly three million people in Britain use e-cigarettes, and more than nine million Americans.
1. Standard e-cigarette
Battery-powered device containing nicotine e-liquid.
It vaporizes flavored nicotine liquid.
Very similar to normal e-cigarettes but with sleeker design and a higher concentration of nicotine.
Thanks to its ‘nicotine salts’, manufacturers claim one pod delivers the amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
It is composed of an e-cigarette (battery and temperature control), and a pod of e-liquid which is inserted at the end.
The liquid contains nicotine, chemicals and flavorings.
Like other vaping devices, it vaporizes the e-liquid.
3. IQOS by Philip Morris
Pen-shaped, charged like an iPod.
It is known as a ‘heat not burn’ smokeless device, heating tobacco but not burning it (at 350C compared to 600C as normal cigarettes do).
The company claims this method lowers users’ exposure to carcinogen from burning tobacco.