A new research study conducted by the University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School has been published in the Harm Reduction Journal which shows that e-cigarettes can help smokers get off cigarettes and may be more able stay smoke free in the long term.

The study authors conducted in-depth interviews with 40 vapers and covered each participants history with cigarettes, vape setups including juice preferences, how they found vaping, and previous quit attempts.

flow chart from the University of East Anglia showing E-cig experience

Flow Chart Showing Participants experience

Of the 40 vapers, by the end of the study:

  • 31 were only using e-cigarettes (19 reported minor lapses), 
  • six reported relapses (5 dual use)
  • three participants have given up both cigarettes and smoking completely

This research also provides evidence that smokers trying out e-cigarettes may end up giving up cigarettes, even when they started vaping with out the intention to stop smoking tobacco.

Most of the vapers being interviewed stated that they switched quickly from smoking to vaping and the smaller portion were gradually moving from dual use (cigs and e-cigs) to vaping only.

While some participants in the study did occasionaly relapse to smoking cigarettes, whether due to social or emotional reasons, the relapse did not generally result in the participant switching back to smoking full time.

E-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco smoking, and they are now the most popular aid to quitting smoking in the UK.
-- Lead researcher Dr. Caitlin Notley from UEA's Norwich Medical School

However the idea of using e-cigarettes to stop smoking, and particularly long-term use, remains controversial.

We found that vaping may support long-term smoking abstinence.

Not only does it substitute many of the physical, psychological, social and cultural elements of cigarette smoking, but it is pleasurable in its own right, as well as convenient and cheaper than smoking.

But the really interesting thing we found was that vaping may also encourage people who don't even want to stop smoking, to eventually quit.

-- Dr. Caitlin Notley comments continued

Here is the conclusion to the study and sums everything up quite nicely:

Our data demonstrates that e-cigarettes may be a unique harm reduction innovation for smoking relapse prevention. 

E-cigarettes meet the needs of some ex-smokers by substituting physical, psychological, social, cultural and identity-related aspects of tobacco addiction. 

Some vapers reported that they found vaping pleasurable and enjoyable—being more than a substitute but actually preferred, over time, to tobacco smoking. 

This clearly suggests that vaping is a viable long-term substitute for smoking, with substantial implications for tobacco harm reduction.

Reading through the study results and the quotes from the participants, I found several statements that echoed experiences from other vapers regarding efforts to switch to vaping from smoking that are frequently heard and even some of my own.

Statements by the author:

  • Initiating e-cigarette use was experienced as a revelation for some, who were quickly able to fully switch to using e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco smoking.
  • For others, periods of dual use or smoking relapse combined with attempts at vaping that were not initially satisfactory. Many of these chose a cheaper ‘cig-a-like’ device which they found to be inadequate. 
  • Some settled on patterns of vaping as a direct substitute of previous tobacco smoking, whereas others reported ‘grazing’ patterns of vaping throughout the day that were perceived to support tobacco smoking abstinence.

Statements from participants:

  • "one evening I went to the local shop, which is very close to here, to get some cigarettes, and they had run out of the brand that I smoked, and I don’t know why, but instead of choosing another brand which I could of done, and occasionally had done in the past, I said ‘oh well, I’ll try one of those e things, I’ll just try one’ and so I bought it, it was a disposable thing and looking back on it, it didn’t taste very nice, it had a sort of metallic taste to it, and I know that it wasn’t a brand that I would now seek out, but I did, that’s what I did, I just bought it and brought it home, and I said to my wife that evening, ‘you know, this is all right, it’s sufficiently satisfying’ (ok) that I think I might investigate this (ok) and I have never smoked tobacco since that day (really), not one drag, and I have never felt that I wanted to"
  • "it felt like I was smoking, so I didn’t have to kind of think up displacement activities, I didn’t have to find something else to do with myself, I could do exactly what I’d always done, just with a slightly different device, and yes, I really, really took to it, and within five days I’d chucked out the last of my cigarettes…but you know within 5 days I’d stopped completely without meaning to"
  • "it was a natural progression because I enjoyed it, it was easy to do, I didn’t even think about, like I said, if I put myself under pressure I probably fail at it, and think ‘oh, I have to do this’, but as I didn’t, I just, it just organically happened really for me"
  • "gum wasn’t going to cut it basically and the patches just didn’t seem like a good idea to me I didn’t think I wasn’t to make a real attempt and patches and gum weren’t going to work so actually try something that may possibly work "

-- selected passages from the author and quotes from the participants of the East Anglia Study

This study confirms what most vapers have experienced in there efforts to get off cigarettes, but this is more than just anecdotal evidence. 

Data from this research it has been collected in a proper scientific fashion, which does make a difference in the minds of some. 

Hopefully this study may help change the minds of current smokers, regulators, politicians, journalists, the general public and even some hard line tobacco control advocates on the positive aspects of e-cigarettes.