The most recent data from the Smoking Toolkit Study, a periodic study of smoking cessation trends in England, reveal a striking finding. The success rate for smokers who tried to quit in the past year has increased dramatically from 14% in 2011 to 23% in 2016. The quit rate remained steady from 2007 to 2011 before rising steadily from 2011 to 2015 and then increasing dramatically over the past year.
What is driving this spectacular increase in smoking cessation rates?
One strong hypothesis is that a shift in methods used for quitting is propelling this change. Starting in 2011 and coinciding precisely with the increased quit rate was a dramatic shift away from the use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in quit attempts and towards the use of electronic cigarettes.
Prior to 2011, virtually no smokers in England were using e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking, while approximately 30% were using NRT. By late last year, only about 10% of smokers were using NRT in quit attempts compared to about 40% using electronic cigarettes.
In addition, the percentage of smokers who quit in the past year increased dramatically from only 4.6% in 2011 to 7.5% so far in 2016. It was 7.2% in 2014 so this is not just a "New Year's resolution" effect).
Since the overall percentage of smokers making quit attempts did not change appreciably between 2011 and 2016, it appears that it is the dramatic rise in e-cigarette use that has fueled the increased rates of smoking cessation in England during the past five years.
The Rest of the Story
These data add to the strong evidence that electronic cigarettes can help smokers quit. Based on this research, which includes a randomized trial of e-cigarettes compared to the nicotine patch, it seems clear that electronic cigarettes are at least as effective as nicotine replacement therapy and probably more so.
One thing is now very clear. There is no basis for anti-vaping advocates to continue to claim that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes can be effective for smoking cessation. There is now strong evidence.
It is certainly true that e-cigarettes do not work for everyone and that many vapers do not quit smoking entirely. But the very same is true with the use of NRT. In fact, the overwhelming majority of NRT users will return to full-time smoking. However, this doesn't mean that NRT does not aid in the smoking cessation process. The same is true for e-cigarettes.
If anti-vaping advocates want to enter into an intelligent scientific discussion about the potential role of e-cigarettes in protecting the public's health, they are going to have to drop their unsupported mantra about how there is no evidence that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit. Otherwise, the discussion will remain in fantasy land rather than in the realm of science.