Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Latest UK Data Suggests Substantial Benefits of Electronic Cigarettes for Smoking Cessation

According to an article in The Guardian, electronic cigarettes were the fastest growing item in terms of supermarket sales in the UK in 2014: "E-cigarettes were the fastest-growing product in British supermarkets last year as consumers shrugged off the controversy over vaping. Sales of electronic cigarettes – or vapourisers – across the largest grocers rose 49.5% in 2014, despite clamour from health groups to ban the devices."

Data from the Smoking Toolkit Study (STS) show that there was a dramatic rise in the use of electronic cigarettes among adults in England that began in 2012 and continued through 2014. Contemporaneous data from the STS show that the period 2012-2014 marked a sudden reversal in the trend of declining annual smoking cessation rates.

From 2007-2011, annual quit rates declined steadily from 6.7% to 4.6%. But suddenly in 2012, things turned around. The quit rate jumped to 6.2%, remained at 6.1% in 2013, and rose further to 7.5% in 2014.

Moreover, the same trend was observed in the proportion of smokers trying to quit each year.

And to top it off, the same trend was observed in the proportion of smokers trying to quit who reported success in their quit attempt.

Of course, these is merely an ecological analysis. However, the pattern of these trends seems far too striking to be explained alternatively. The working hypothesis, it seems, should be that electronic cigarettes have played a major role in enhancing smoking cessation in the England, both by stimulating quit attempts and improving success in those quit attempts.

The Rest of the Story

The irony of this story is that policy makers in the UK wanted a virtual ban on electronic cigarettes, and health groups and many anti-smoking advocates in the U.S. favor policies that would put a huge dent in the growth of the electronic cigarette market (at the expense, of course, of increased tobacco cigarette sales).

This is probably the most profound example in my career of public health groups supporting policies that are antithetical to the overall goals of public health. Therefore, it warrants a careful examination of the reasons why anti-smoking groups are promoting such policies. Our search for these answers will continue at The Rest of the Story over the next few months.

The rest of the story is that the existing evidence suggests that electronic cigarettes are producing substantial public health benefits but causing very little in the way of public health harms. Based on the data available at the present time, I think it is safe to conclude that electronic cigarettes are having a very large net positive impact on the public's health. Unfortunately, anti-smoking groups are doing everything they can to negate this public health success story.

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