Among those who didn't completely quit, 57% of those who used e-cigarettes were able reduce their smoking by half, compared withy 41% of nicotine patch wearers who halved their tobacco cigarette use.
“While our results don't show any clear-cut differences between e-cigarettes and patches in terms of quit success after six months, it certainly seems that e-cigarettes were more effective in helping smokers who didn't quit to cut down,” said Dr. Chris Bullen, lead researcher and NIHI director.
Findings were based on trials involving 657 participants seeking to quit smoking, with 292 assigned to use nicotine patches and 292 assigned to e-cigarettes with 16 milligrams of nicotine over a 13-week period.
While the study found “no difference” in the rates of occurrences of adverse health events between e-cigarettes and nicotine patches, a 2012 study from the University of Athens in Greece found an immediate increase in airway resistance for non-smokers and smokers who used the electronic devices.
E-cigarettes heat a nicotine solution that emits a vapor that proponents say is less harmful than the tar and toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
Some users of e-cigarettes contend the products have been helping them quit traditional cigarettes. But critics say not enough is known about the product and its long-term health effects to begin labeling it a tobacco-cessation device.
The FDA has yet to issue production and marketing guidelines on such products, but has indicated plans to do so sometime this year. Both the United Kingdom and the European Union have begun working on rules that would regulate e-cigarettes as medical devices.
Since their introduction in 2003 as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes have seen a rapid rise in popularity. Their widespread use and the large-scale marketing campaigns conducted by tobacco companies manufacturing e-cigarettes have prompted debate on whether this is setting back decades of anti-tobacco efforts and campaigns to discourage use among young people.
But a recent CDC report found that electronic cigarette use was on the rise among middle school and high school students, with percentage of those who reported using an e-cigarette doubling from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.
Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHSjohnson