Last updated:

Safety paramount in e-cigarette debate, says BMA

The BMA has stressed the importance of regulating e-cigarettes to ensure they are safe, after research indicated they could help people stop smoking.

ecigaretteThe study of nearly 6,000 smokers in England who tried to quit without professional help suggested e-cigarettes were more effective than over-the-counter NRT (nicotine replacement therapies) or willpower alone.

Participants who used e-cigarettes in their most recent attempts to quit were around 60 per cent more likely to report not smoking at the time of the survey than those using the other approaches.

These differences existed after accounting for other characteristics between the groups, such as demographics, socio-economic groups and nicotine dependencies.

Need for research

BMA board of science deputy chair Ram Moorthy said he welcomed high-quality research that added to the evidence base regarding smoking cessation and the role of e-cigarettes. 

He said: ‘There is a need for research to understand the role of e-cigarettes when compared to prescription medication and behavioural support provided free at the point of access by NHS Stop Smoking services.

‘There also needs to be more research regarding the long-term effects of e-cigarette and nicotine use.

‘Regulation by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will ensure that consumers can be assured that e-cigarette devices available for sale are safe and effective at helping people to cut down and quit.’

Methods compared

The research findings, published in the journal Addiction, come from 5,863 people in England who took part in the ongoing Smoking Tool-kit Study and had tried to stop smoking in the previous 12 months.

Of these, 464 made at least one attempt to quit using e-cigarettes, 1,922 tried with over-the-counter NRT such as patches or gum and 3,477 used nothing at all.

Overall, 20 per cent of e-cigarette users reported not smoking at the time of the survey compared with 10.1 per cent of those using NRT and 15.4 per cent using willpower alone. 

Senior researcher Robert West, from University College London, stressed the findings were from a correlation study, not a randomised controlled trial.

‘It’s one piece of the jigsaw puzzle and it’s not the final answer and it may be different in different countries and it may be different in a few years’ time as e-cigarettes develop and hopefully improve,’ he said.

Nonetheless he added: ‘At the moment, people who use electronic cigarettes in England are quitting at around a 50 to 60 per cent higher rate than people who use NRT bought over the counter or nothing at all. But the success rates are less than if you go to the NHS Stop Smoking services.’

The story so far