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Can e-cigarettes help people quit smoking?

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As with many products, we don't always know their impact on society until after they hit the market. It's no different with electronic cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are controversial battery-powered devices with the look and feel of regular cigarettes which enable users to inhale vapor from a nicotine-laced liquid or liquid using no nicotine at all. But now we have a better understanding of how they can influence smoking habits.

New research published in PLOS One found that use of e-cigarettes could reduce the amount someone smokes by as much as 22 percent. In the 12-month randomized study, researchers evaluated 300 smokers who had no intention of quitting. Two groups were given e-cigarette models with different nicotine strengths and a third group was given a model with no nicotine at all.

The result? A decline in smoking for all groups, with "no consistent differences among study groups." After 12 weeks there was a smoking reduction of 22.3 percent and after 52 weeks it was 10.3 percent. Even more impressive, complete abstinence from tobacco smoking was measured in 10.7 percent of participants at week 12 and 8.7 percent at week 52. Remember, these aren't even people who were planning on giving up smoking.

The researchers also measured exhaled carbon monoxide levels of the participants and noted that a "substantial decrease in adverse events from baseline was observed and withdrawal symptoms were infrequently reported during the study."

The conclusion from the researchers? "In smokers not intending to quit, the use of e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, decreased cigarette consumption and elicited enduring tobacco abstinence without causing significant side effects."

Sounds promising, but as the Wall Street Journal points out, don't expect this to be the last word on e-cigarettes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking to regulate them and E.U. health ministers are looking to regulate them as medicinal products; in both cases that would mean more testing and study.

But for now, this is a good sign that e-cigarettes can reduce smoking.

Read more about the study here.

Photo: Flickr/ramseymohsen

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— By on June 24, 2013, 11:18 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure