E-cigarettes more effective than nicotine patches in helping pregnant smokers quit: study

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E-cigarettes may help more pregnant women stop smoking and are just as safe as nicotine patches, new research from Queen Mary University of London has revealed.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, is the first to examine the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes among pregnant smokers. It found that e-cigarettes may be more effective than nicotine patches and do not pose any greater risks to mothers or babies during pregnancy.

The new study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, involved 1,140 pregnant smokers who were randomly divided into two groups. One was given e-cigarettes, while the other was given nicotine patches.

The e-cigarette group had better proven quit rates at end of pregnancy than the patch group (6.8% vs 4.4%).

Researchers noted that the quit rates are low because they required that women post their saliva samples to confirm no smoking, and very few did that. Looking at self-reported abstinence at end of pregnancy, 19.8% vs 9.7% were abstinent in the two groups.

Around one third (34%) of the women in the e-cigarette group and 6 per cent in the patch group were using their products at the end of pregnancy.

Birth outcomes and adverse effects in women were similar in the two groups, apart from low birth-weight (babies born weighing under 2.5kg), which was less frequent in the e-cigarette group (9.8% vs 14.8%), most likely because women in the e-cigarettes group smoked less.

“While it is best for pregnant smokers to stop smoking without continuing to use nicotine, if this is difficult, e-cigarettes can help smokers quit and are as safe as nicotine patches,” Professor Peter Hajek, director of the Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London and lead author of the research report, said.

“Many stop smoking services are already using e-cigarettes as an option for smokers generally. Such use can now be adopted in stop-smoking services for pregnant women as well.”

Two stop-smoking medications have been tested with pregnant smokers so far – nicotine replacement treatments such as nicotine chewing gum or patches, and bupropion – an antidepressant. Nicotine replacement was shown to have only limited effects, while bupropion had none, the researchers noted.