Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are a device that delivers nicotine or other chemicals to people via an aerosol vapour. They are designed to simulate the act of smoking tobacco cigarettes without the burning of tobacco. Some contain nicotine while others do not.

E-cigarette use is becoming increasingly prevalent in Australia with data showing an increase in use from 0.6% in 2010 to 7% in 2013 among current and former smokers.

Health experts are divided when it comes to the proposed benefits of using e-cigarettes. Advocates contend that they have great potential as a cessation aid and could reduce the harm associated with tobacco smoking.

Opponents, on the other hand, question the safety and effectiveness of their use, the uncertainty around their long term health effects and whether they may reduce smokers’ motivation to quit smoking.

In order to assess the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, it’s important to understand who is using them and why they are being used.

Researchers investigated trends in e-cigarette use in tobacco smokers and recent quitters in New South Wales.

Participants were part of the Cancer Institute Tobacco Tracking Survey (CITTS), a telephone survey monitoring smoking related behaviours in adult current smokers and recent quitters.

Participants were assessed for their current and past smoking behaviours. They were also asked questions about any e-cigarette use including:

  • How often (if ever) they used e cigarettes
  • What their main reasons for using e-cigarettes were
  • Where they bought e-cigarettes from

Nine percent of those interviewed in this study were currently using e-cigarettes.

Use was more common in younger adults, although older adults who did use them did so more frequently. The main reasons for use of e-cigarettes were “to help me quit smoking” and “to cut down on the number of cigarettes I smoke”.

Most people in the study who used e-cigarettes were dual users, meaning they were also smoking tobacco cigarettes. The majority of e-cigarette users reported purchasing them from either the internet or tobacconist.

Implications

This study provides good information on the ‘who, why and where’ of e-cigarette use in NSW.

E- cigarette manufacturers are prohibited from advertising their products as smoking cessation aids as they do not yet have Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval. Nevertheless, the majority of participants in this study cited helping to quit smoking as the main reason for using e-cigarettes.

Further research is needed to see if e-cigarettes have a meaningful role to play in smoking cessation and improved health or if they contribute to addiction, increased use and poor health outcomes.

If you are currently using e-cigarettes or thinking of starting, it might be useful to talk to your GP for more information, particularly if you are using e-cigarettes at the same time as smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Last Reviewed: 09/10/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Dunlop, S et al. How are tobacco smokers using e-cigarettes? Patterns of use, reasons for use and places of purchase in New South Wales. MJA 204 (9) doi: 10.5694/mja15.01156. 16 May 2016.