By Gregory Conley, Research Fellow, Heartland Institute
For years, advocates for smoke-free alternatives, such as electronic cigarettes and other e-vapor products, have known that these products are effective at helping smokers quit or dramatically reduce their cigarette consumption.
Some, including myself, have their own personal experiences quitting smoking with the help of e-cigarettes. Others, meanwhile, learned that electronic cigarettes worked merely by opening their eyes and ears and actually speaking to recent ex-smokers about what helped them quit.
Unfortunately, ardent opponents to e-vapor products have refused to recognize these real-world stories as evidence. “The plural of anecdote is not data,” Center for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden recently told the Los Angeles Times.
In state legislatures and city halls across the country, those in tobacco control with abstinence-only philosophies on nicotine have watched as e-vapor users have stood up and testified to the positive impact electronic cigarettes had on their lives. Without a hint of self-awareness, these individuals in tobacco control have then stood up and declared that there is no evidence that electronic cigarettes help smokers quit.
For advocates and users of these products, the question over the last five years has not been “if” population-level studies would show that e-vapor products are effective at helping smokers quit, but “when” those studies would actually be conducted and released.
Fortunately, that day has arrived with the release of two important studies out of France and England.
The study out of France found that about 1% of France’s population—not French smokers but the entire population—had quit smoking using an e-vapor product. This survey was conducted by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in November 2013 among a representative sample of over 2,000 individuals over the age of 15 years.
Significantly, while half of smokers (51%) reported having tried electronic cigarettes, only 3.5% of those surveyed who reported having rarely or never smoked had ever vaped before. Moreover, while those between the age of 15-24 were most likely to have ever used an electronic cigarette, they were the least likely to have used in the past 30 days. Indeed, the authors found that those over the age of 35 were far more likely to try to entirely quit smoking with an e-cigarette than were younger people.
The second study, recently published in the medical journal Addiction, was so striking that even the New York Times covered it positively with the headline, “Study Gives E-Cigarettes Edge in Helping Smokers Quit.” The study included 6,000 smokers in England who, like the vast majority of smokers trying to stop, had reported trying to quit on their own without help from a doctor or other professionals. Of those who had tried to quit with electronic cigarettes, around 20% had successfully stopped smoking at the time of the survey. Meanwhile, those who tried to quit without assistance (15%) or with nicotine replacement therapy (10%) had less luck.
“Potentially millions of lives are at stake, and our job is to help policy makers to protect those lives,” said Professor Robert West, the director of tobacco studies at University College London and the primary author of the study. West even went so far as to state that it would be “perfectly reasonable” for the England’s National Health Services to begin prescribing e-vapor products to smokers.
Will these studies stop e-vapor opponents from continuing to claim that there is no evidence that these products help smokers quit? Almost certainly not. Nonetheless, they provide extremely important ammunition that can be used by advocates and retailers to show policy makers and healthcare professionals that these opponents are grounded in ideology and not science.