E-cigarettes Not Found to Help Cancer Patients Quit Smoking

Patients who smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes less likely to quit than those who only smoke traditional cigarettes.

Patients who smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes less likely to quit than those who only smoke traditional cigarettes.

The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes has raised questions as to whether they aid smokers in quitting traditional cigarettes, however their use has not been found to help cancer patients kick the habit.

A recent study found that cancer patients who smoke both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes are more nicotine dependent, and equally or less likely to quit smoking traditional cigarettes than patients who only smoke traditional cigarettes. The study, which was published online September 22, 2014 in the journal Cancer, questions whether e-cigarettes are actually useful in helping cancer patients quit smoking altogether.

"Consistent with recent observations of increased e-cigarette use in the general population, our findings illustrate that e-cigarette use among tobacco-dependent cancer patients has increased within the past two years," said Jamie Ostroff, PhD, of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in a press release. "Controlled research is needed to evaluate the potential harms and benefits of e-cigarettes as a potential cessation approach for cancer patients.”

With the risks of persistent smoking, quitting the habit is especially important for cancer patients. Given the rise of e-cigarettes, health care providers question whether their usage aids or inhibits smoking cessation.

In an examination of clinical data on e-cigarette use among cancer patients, researchers studied 1074 cancer patients who are smokers that enrolled in a tobacco treatment program between 2012 and 2013.

The data illustrated a three-fold increase in e-cigarette use between 2012 and 2013, increasing from 10.6% to 38.5%. At the time of enrollment, e-cigarette users were found to be more nicotine dependent than patients who did not use e-cigarettes.

Additionally, the e-cigarette users were more likely to have unsuccessfully tried to quit in the past, and were more likely to be diagnosed with lung or head and neck cancers.

At follow-up, e-cigarette users were found to be equally as likely to still be smoking as traditional smokers. The 7-day abstinence rates were 44.4% for e-cigarette users versus 43.1% for non-users, excluding patients lost to follow-up.

The authors stress that the study had several limitations and additional research is required.

“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,” Ostroff said.