According to a new medical study scheduled to be published in the journal Cancer, electronic cigarettes are not an effective smoking cessation tool for cancer patients trying to quit.
For this study, researchers observed a total of 1,047 cancer patients who continued to smoke and were therefore enrolled in a tobacco treatment program at a comprehensive cancer center during 2012 and 2013. The six-month study followed the subjects’ smoking status, nicotine dependence and e-cigarette use, which were measured at baseline and again at the follow-up. The main outcome of this research was smoking cessation, which was measured as seven-day abstinence at follow-up, but researchers reported that cancer patients who used electronic cigarettes were no more likely to quit smoking than patients who did not use them.
“Controlled research is needed to evaluate the potential harms and benefits of e-cigarettes as a potential cessation approach for cancer patients,” said Dr. Jamie Ostroff, one of the authors of the study Electronic cigarette use among cancer patients: Characteristics of e-cigarette users and their smoking cessation outcomes. Although he acknowledged the limitations of his research, Ostroff recommended that “In the meantime, oncologists should advise all smokers to quit smoking traditional combustible cigarettes, encourage use of FDA-approved cessation medications, refer patients for smoking cessation counseling, and provide education about the potential risks and lack of known benefits of long-term e-cigarette use.” Apparently, no findings were made to support oncologists suggesting e-cigarettes help cancer patients quit smoking.
However, several scientists with a rich background in tobacco and electronic cigarette research have labeled Ostroff’s study as unreliable. Dr. Robert West, director of tobacco research at University College London, pointed out that the study was not able to assess whether or not for cancer patients who smoke using an e-cigarette to try and quit is beneficial “because the sample could consist of e-cigarette users who had already failed in a quit attempt, so all those who would have succeeded already would be ruled out”.”
Professor Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Unit at Queen Mary University of London also noticed this critical flaw of the study. “The authors followed up smokers who tried e-cigarettes but did not stop smoking, and excluded smokers who tried e-cigarettes and stopped smoking,” he said. “Like smokers who fail with any method, these were highly dependent smokers who found quitting difficult. The authors concluded that e-cigarette was not helpful, but that would be true for any treatment however effective if only treatment failures were evaluated.”
“The blatant flaw in this study is that it enrolled smokers who had already made quit attempts using e-cigarettes in the past. By definition, this resulted in a sample of smokers who were more resistant to quitting. One would expect to find lower quitting rates among this population of e-cigarette users,” Dr, Michael Siegel, from the Boston University School of Public Health, writes on his blog. “To be valid, the study needs to examine e-cigarette smokers who have not tried these products before and are trying them for the first time in an attempt to quit smoking. Otherwise, the study cannot truly claim to draw conclusions about how helpful e-cigarettes are for smoking cessation among cancer patients.”
Unfortunately, despite its questionable findings, this study is making the rounds on large international news and medical websites and planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of smokers who otherwise would have at least tried electronic cigarettes as a means of quitting. This way, some, if not most, of those who read this blatant disinformation will stick to toxic tobacco cigarettes instead. Is this really a way of improving public health?
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