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  1. ITV Report

Hundreds of thousands of smokers turn to e-cigarettes to help them quit, study finds

Almost 900,000 people used e-cigarettes instead of prescriptions or behavioural support to help them stop smoking last year, a new study has found.

A man shown 'vaping' with one kind of e-cigarette Credit: PA

Researchers from University College London said some 37.3 per cent of the 8.46 million adult smokers in England had tried to give up in 2014, and of these, 28.2 per cent - or 891,000 - had used an e-cigarette, known as 'vaping', to help.

According to the study, published in the Addiction journal, using one of the electronic devices raised the long-term success rate from around five per cent to 7.5 per cent - equating to an estimated 22,000 more people quitting every year.

Prof Robert West, who led the team, said while the numbers were not as high as some pro-vaping campaigners had claimed in the past, they were still significant.

E-cigarettes appear to be helping a significant number of smokers to stop who would not have done otherwise - not as many as some e-cigarette enthusiasts claim, but a substantial number nonetheless.

There have been claims by some public health researchers that e-cigarettes undermine quitting if smokers use them just to cut down, and that they act as a gateway into smoking.

These claims stem from a misunderstanding of what the evidence can tell us at this stage, but this is clearly something we need to watch carefully.

– Prof Robert West, University College London
A different kind of e-cigarette, shown next to a regular tobacco cigarette Credit: PA

The research was welcomed by the director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, Prof Peter Hajek, who said he hoped it might help develop new ways of supporting people through quitting.

"E-cigarettes have a potential to reduce smoking related morbidity and many smokers are successful in making the switch from smoking to vaping," he said.

"Specialist smoking cessation services are currently not offering e-cigarettes and are seeing a marked decline in interest. This is unfortunate, as it is likely that even more smokers would switch to vaping successfully if e-cigarettes were combined with behavioural support that the services provide.

"Hopefully, findings like this will encourage the services to start offering e-cigarettes as a part of their overall toolkit."