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Big Pharma Scrambles As E-Cigs Become Most Popular Way To Quit

E-cigarettes have overtaken nicotine patches and gum as the most popular method to quit smoking, according to a study from University College London (UCL).

UCL academics found one million people in England used e-cigarettes to kick tobacco in 2015. The total number of smokers in England who tried to quit was 2.6 million — meaning 40 percent of all those who tried to give up smoking turned to vaping.

A little more than a quarter of those who tried to quit used a licensed nicotine product — 6.5 percent used champtix tablets and 4.1 percent used behavioural support.

“E-cigarettes have overtaken more traditional methods as the most widely used support for smokers wanting to quit,” said Robert West, professor of health psychology at UCL. “Their impact on public health at present comes from attracting people who would otherwise have tried to stop without any useful form of support.”

West led a study, published Feb. in Addiction, that found almost 900,000 people in England used e-cigarettes to wean themselves off tobacco in 2014.

Previous research concluded that smokers who used e-cigarettes to quit are far more likely to be successful than those who used nicotine replacement therapy or went cold turkey.

West’s team said the ability of e-cigarettes to help smokers quit where all else has failed raised the long-term success rate of quitting from five percent to 7.5 percent.

“E-cigarettes appear to be helping a significant number of smokers to stop who would not have done otherwise – not as many as some e-cigarette enthusiasts claim, but a substantial number nonetheless,” said West.

The study was greeted enthusiastically by both anti-tobacco campaigners and public health professionals. “This shows that electronic cigarettes can save lives,” said chief executive of the anti-smoking campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Deborah Arnott.

The pharmaceutical industry, on the other hand, is unlikely to be as welcoming of the e-cigarette revolution as West and Arnott. Many e-cigarette advocates argue big pharma has a vested interest in stunting the growth of vaping in order to retain substantial market share over smoking cessation methods.

These claims gained more substance in 2014 when public emails showed pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline pushing for greater regulation of e-cigarettes. “We believe in responsible and proportionate regulation for all nicotine-containing products as medicinal products,” said Sophie Crousse, Brussels-based vice president of European public affairs for Glaxo’s consumer healthcare division.

A documentary film set to be released in 2016 titled “A Billion Lives,” hopes to expose how pharmaceutical companies and public health campaigners are trying to push back the growth of e-cigarettes. The title of the film is based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimate that one billion people will die from smoking over the course of this century.

“If you are a pharmaceutical company whose starting to see your share of the market on nicotine replacement therapy slide. What are you going to do?,” says Dr. Derek Yach, former Executive Director of the WHO in the film’s trailer.

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