Story: Sales of e-cigarettes soar, but do they really work?

A man in Liverpool smoking an e-cigarette. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Despite a damning scientific report on nicotine replacement therapy, more and more smokers are turning to electronic cigarettes to help them quit. Do they work? asks Katie Burnetts.

It’s January, and everyone and their dog is on some form of NRT (nicotine replacement therapy). The industry is worth £150m in the UK – £520m in the US – yet yesterday’s damning scientific report showed nicotine replacement therapy offers no advantage in keeping smokers off cigarettes in the long term.

The report, by Harvard School of Public Health showed that while nicotine-replacement therapies could be useful in the early stages of quitting, ex-smokers were twice as likely to relapse when they relied on them. Going cold turkey, it seems, is the most effective way of giving up.

So what of the fastest growing wheeze from the NRT industry: the e-cigarette? This electronic device releases varying amounts of nicotine in a warm water mist, simulating the flavour of a cigarette. A red LED light at its tip even resembles the burning tip of a cigarette. Because electronic cigarettes produce water vapour rather than smoke, they can be used indoors legally in the UK. Manufacturers claim they taste and smoke like a real cigarette. New figures from the Electronic Cigarette Consumer Association show the UK electronic cigarette industry is now worth about £5m a year. Users of the devices are expected to top 1million this year, despite repeated calls for research into their side effects from medical experts who have raised questions about what the devices contain and their impact on users.

Jamie Leith, 25, director of a social enterprise, has wrestled with his 10 a day addiction (20 on weekends) for five years. “Enough is enough. I saw my friend had an e-cigarette and he’d cut down dramatically so I thought I’d give it a go,” says Leith. “For the last 5 years I have been an all or nothing smoker. I managed to quit last year, but I was a roll-up smoker and didn’t find that tricky at all. Since working abroad and falling into the trap of ‘straight’ cigarettes I have feebly failed to quit twice.

“A friend had an e-cig, so along with the rest of the smoking world on January 2nd (I was up past midnight on the 1st and only an idiot quits halfway through the day) I bought one and haven’t broken yet. After a week of multiple pints consumed, pubs attended and work stress-outs, I am still holding strong. I almost enjoy it more. Crime-free smoking on

public transport – what more could I ask for? My only worry now is trying to quit the e-cig.”

Long-time smoker, Ronald Hancock, 65, from County Durham, once enjoyed 40 cigarettes a day, but switched to Vapourlites – a brand of rechargeable e-cigarette (£17.50 for a starter pack) – after he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. “I still get that ‘hit’,” says Hancock. “For my wife and I, smoking a real cigarette has turned into a bit of a treat now. We’ll have a real cigarette once a month, and it’s lovely, but it stops there. I had such a scare with my health I’m not about to go and make it worse when there’s an alternative that gives me almost the same feeling.”

Do you have any experience or comments to share? Share them below.


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