Electronic cigarettes work about as well as nicotine patches in helping smokers kick the habit, researchers report. And e cigarettes helped people smoke fewer cigarettes overall, even if they didn t quit completely.

The study is the first major piece of research to show that the products, which deliver a nicotine mist using a cigarette shaped pipe, can actually benefit smokers.

The findings, published in the Lancet medical journal, are not quite enough to make public health experts embrace e cigarettes, which are not yet regulated and which are growing in popularity. But it s enough to make them look more closely at whether there may be some benefit to them.

You’re trading one addiction for another addiction, Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the anti tobacco Legacy Foundation, told NBC News. “(But) it may be that for some people, this will be a better way to quit, and there may be people who’ve tried other things and haven’t been able to quit who will quit with this.”

For the study, Chris Bullen of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and colleagues recruited 657 smokers who wanted to quit. They divided them into three groups, to get either 13 weeks supply of e cigarettes, nicotine patches or placebo e cigarettes that contained no nicotine.

After six months, 5.7 percent of the volunteers had managed to completely quit smoking. It was slightly more in the e cigarette group, but not in a way that was statistically significant, Bullen reported.

It s very difficult to quit smoking, but the e cigarettes also appeared to have helped people cut back on real tobacco. Bullen s team found that 57 percent of volunteers given real e cigarettes were smoking half as many cigarettes a day as before, compared to 41 percent of those who got patches.

While our results don t show any clear cut differences between e cigarettes and patches in terms of quit success after six months, it certainly seems that e cigarettes were more effective in helping smokers who didn t quit to cut down, Bullen said in a statement.

It s also interesting that the people who took part in our study seemed to be much more enthusiastic about e cigarettes than patches, as evidenced by the far greater proportion of people in both of the e cigarette groups who said they d recommend them to family or friends, compared to patches.

Healton said that was a provocative finding. It does also suggest consumer acceptability of the product is higher, she said.

U.S. health officials are very concerned about the rise in popularity of e cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration released a report on Thursday showing a doubling in the number of high school students who have tried them, to 10 percent.

More than 21 percent of adults have tried them at least once, but the CDC says they are addictive and may themselves be dangerous.

We don t know much about them, says Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. But he says they could potentially be useful if tobacco companies would stop making products like cigarettes and make e cigarettes instead and if those e cigarettes did indeed turn out to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

Our nirvana is a world where nobody is dying from death and disease caused by tobacco, McAfee told NBC News. If you have a product that doesn t kill people, that is where the money should be going, that is where the promotion, the marketing should be going.

They are pricey an e cigarette product ranges from $10 to $120, depending on how many charges it provides. And there are dozens, if not hundreds, of brands. FDA says some appear to contain carcinogens, and there is some evidence that nicotine is not only addictive, but may itself damage health.

They could have inherent dangers that are greater than using something like gum or the patch, Healton said.

CDC says tobacco is the leading preventable cause of dis ease, dis ability, and death in the United States, killing 443,000 people a year.

Public health experts are desperate for ways to help people quit smoking, but it is hard. The American Cancer Society says only 4 percent to 7 percent of people manage to quit on any single given try. Drugs such as Chantix or Zyban can raise this rate to 25 percent.

There s also counseling, nicotine gum and patches, hypnosis and acupuncture, and companies are working on anti nicotine vaccines.

Erika Edwards contributed to this report.

Ban on nicotine-loaded e-cigarettes aggressively enforced while some anti-smoking advocates call for legalization

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Even as some public health advocates call for legalization, Health Canada has been vigorously applying its controversial ban on nicotine loaded e cigarettes, ordering scores of businesses to stop selling the devices and telling Internet providers and credit card companies to cut off the companies.

The regulator has investigated 250 complaints about sales of electronic cigarettes in the past four years and issued cease and desist letters to most of the businesses involved, said Leslie Meerburg, a spokeswoman.

The enforcement attempts come amid a spirited debate among public health experts about whether e cigarettes risk encouraging real smoking or represent an effective stand in for tobacco, minus the life threatening side effects.

E cigarette businesses and some anti smoking advocates argue the government should be moving toward legalizing and regulating the devices, rather than bullying the retailers.


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We have never seen any product, nicotine replacement therapy product, that has generated so much interest on behalf of the smokers. This is so amazing, said Fran ois Damphousse, a researcher with the Non smokers Rights Association, one of Canada s most influential tobacco control organizations.

What you should do is permit it on the market and inform the public If you have to make a choice because you re addicted, go for the safer product.

The battery powered devices heat up a liquid that contains nicotine and flavouring, turning it into vapour and creating an experience akin to smoking, while providing a hit of the addictive drug. Missing are the thousands of chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, churned out by burning tobacco.

Citing the potential for nicotine poisoning and addiction, and potential irritation from the propylene glycol liquid, Health Canada issued a notice in 2009 that barred sales of the devices if they contain nicotine.

Health Canada is sometimes criticized for a less than aggressive approach to enforcing its rules. The regulator has gone after e cigarette sellers, however, with relative gusto, seizing or turning back product being imported into Canada, as well as demanding a sales halt in most of the 250 complaints it has investigated, said Ms. Meerburg.

No charges have been laid.

If you have to make a choice because you re addicted, go for the safer product

The department has also asked that Internet service providers cease hosting websites selling e cigarettes, and told credit card companies, or third parties like PayPal, not to handle the retailers transactions, said Daniel David, head of the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association.

It does slow down this industry, certainly, said Mr. David. A lot of times it s a scare tactic. If you re a new company and Health Canada sends you a cease and desist letter, it can be pretty stressful.

The Northern Vapers store in Saanich, B.C., is one of those to receive a stop sale letter. They re just trying to intimidate people, charged owner John Overall.

Mr. David is convinced the devices work like no other smoking cessation tool, rapidly weaning him off tobacco, and doing the same for 70 80% of customers at his Evape stores.

However, many public health experts are disturbed by the growing interest in vaping.

The Canadian Cancer Society has warned the trend threatens to hook youth on nicotine and re normalize smoking. New Brunswick s deputy chief medical officer of health has called for a crackdown, and Nova Scotia has already said it will include e cigarettes in laws banning indoor smoking and sales to minors.

Dr. Robert Strang, that province s chief medical officer of health, said he is not just worried about the devices leading young people to tobacco. Anecdotal evidence suggests existing smokers are using them to continue their habit indoors, negating the deterrent impact of smoking bans, he said.

In the last decade, we ve made significant gains, especially in youth smoking. We have a generation of young people growing up in an environment where non smoking is much more the norm, said Dr. Strang. We run a real risk of rolling that back.

There are signs, however, of a shift in opinion. The Canadian Lung Association said this week it is reassessing the strong stance against e cigarettes it voiced just last year.

Mr. Damphousse , whose organization convinced the government to introduce graphic health warnings on cigarette packages, argued that any smoker who uses e cigarettes is either consuming less tobacco or none at all, reducing his or her health risks either way.

In the U.S., regular tobacco sales continue dropping while those of e cigarettes soar, suggesting consumption of the electronic devices could surpass traditional cigs within the next decade, wrote analyst Bonnie Herzog of Wells Fargo Securities in a recent report.

Scientific research on their benefits and risks is accumulating, but is still limited. A recently published New Zealand trial of 657 smokers concluded that a modest 7.3% of nicotine e cigarette users had quit tobacco after six months, compared with 5.8% using a nicotine patch and 4.1% employing an e cigarette with no nicotine.

A U.S. government study published last September, meanwhile, found that the portion of Grade 6 12 students who had tried an e cigarette doubled to about 6.8% from 2011 to 2012, although just over 90% had also smoked tobacco products.

National Post