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Ex-smokers credit e-cigarettes for helping them quit, poll finds

A woman smokes an e-cigarette at the Henley Vaporium in New York.

Katie Orlinsky/The New York Times

One in seven Canadian adults have tried e-cigarettes, and the vast majority have done so to help them quit smoking tobacco, a new poll shows.

The national survey conducted by Forum Research to be released on Thursday found that 64 per cent of those who vape also smoke. Another 27 per cent used to smoke tobacco but quit, while 9 per cent of vapers never smoked.

"It appears that, contrary to authorities' fears, vaping is not a gateway to tobacco smoking … and may be a useful smoking cessation aid," said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research.

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The poll results echo the findings of a new international review that also suggests e-cigarettes can help smokers quit or reduce their cigarette consumption sharply.

The review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a medical research group, found that 9 per cent of smokers who used e-cigarettes containing nicotine gave up tobacco for a year or more; in those who used nicotine-free vaporizers, the quit rate was 4 per cent.

Among those who continued to smoke, tobacco consumption was at least halved among the 36 per cent of those using e-cigarettes with nicotine, and the 28 per cent of those using nicotine-free products.

Peter Hajek, a professor of clinical psychology at Queen Mary University of London, and co-author of the Cochrane study, said the results suggest e-cigarettes may be an effective smoking cessation tool, but cautioned that, because the research was based on data from only 662 smokers and products are constantly changing, it is too early to make definitive pronouncements.

In particular, Dr. Hajek said it is not clear how e-cigarettes compare with other smoking cessation aids such as nicotine patches and drugs.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize liquid – often flavoured – to simulate the feel of smoking without the exposure to the deadly toxins in tobacco.

In Canada, e-cigarettes with nicotine are not approved for sale, but are widely available.

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In fact, the Forum poll shows that the majority of e-cigarette users, 53 per cent, use nicotine fluid. The majority of the vapers who continue to smoke prefer nicotine-based products (68 per cent), but only 4 per cent of never-smokers use nicotine fluid, another hint vaping is not a gateway to smoking.

The Canadians polled said they use e-cigarettes for a variety of reasons:

  • To help quitting tobacco, 29 per cent;
  • They like the flavours, 16 per cent;
  • Vaping is allowed where smoking is not, 14 per cent;
  • Vaping is healthier than smoking, 10 per cent;
  • Doctors’ advice, 4 per cent.

Ove rall, two-thirds said one of their top reasons for using e-cigarettes was to quit smoking.

About half (48 per cent) of those using e-cigarettes to quit tobacco said they have done so, and the other 52 per cent said they have reduced their consumption. (The quit rate for products such as nicotine patches is about 10 per cent, substantially less.)

The success rate in quitting smoking was similar for those using nicotine-based e-cigarettes and those using just the flavoured liquid.

Currently, Canada has few rules surrounding the sale and use of e-cigarettes, but provinces such as Ontario and Alberta, plan to restrict their use in a manner similar to tobacco.

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Public health groups are divided on vaping. Some believe e-cigarettes can help people quit tobacco and reduce the harm, while others fear vaping will lead young people to tobacco and undermine the public health gains from cracking down on smoking.

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