After some years of controversy the first ever clinical trial that compares ecigarettes with nicotine patches was published in The Lancet medical journal and the results clearly determine a winner.

nicotine patchThe study was presented at the European Respiratory Society 2013 Annual Congress in Barcelona, Spain and represents the work conducted by Chris Bullen, MD, director of the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and his team of researchers who compared the results of 657 smokers trying to quit using three methods.

The participants were randomly assigned to three separate groups as follows: 292 people were given ecigarettes that contained 16mg of nicotine, 292 people were given patches that contained 21mg of nicotine and 73 people were given placebo ecigarettes with no nicotine.

The trial rules were simple and it involved that the smokers should use the assigned method for one week before quitting and for twelve weeks after while the primary outcome measured was the abstinence from tobacco using carbon monoxide breath testing at 6 months follow-up.

After careful monitoring the results showed a clear win for the ecigarette group with a 7.3% successful cessation rate while the nicotine patch group showed only a 5.8% successful cessation rate. The placebo ecigarette group showed only a 4.1% success rate.

And while only a small percentage of the groups managed to quit smoking completely, the results on cigarette consumption were also very promising: over 57% of the ecigarette group managed to reduce their daily quota by at least half after six months, compared to 41% of the nicotine patch group.

What is interesting is the fact that a third of the participants in both the nicotine and placebo ecigarette groups continued using the device after the 6 months trial while compared to only 8% of those who used nicotine patches. Also 90% of the first two groups would recommend the method to a friend while only 56% would do this in the nicotine patch group.

Dr. Murray Laugesen, one of the co-authors of the study also noted that the brand of ecigarette used two years ago when the study started was quite low in nicotine as compared to today’s brands, therefore smokers these days will obtain as three times more nicotine from their devices as they did in the trial so the results would be even stronger.

Even though the study did not achieve statistical significance due to the overall small percents, it clearly shows that ecigarettes are a better alternative to the nicotine patches that are always favored by the authorities as the most reliable method for quitting.

While everyone agrees that larger and longer clinical trials are required in order to reveal the long-term effects of ecigarettes and whether they can be effective as a smoking cessation aid, this study is only the first step to confirm some of the benefits attributed to this method.

However, even Chris Bullen is worried that regulations might just result in the loss of a valuable aid for smokers “Excessive regulation could crush the chance for people to quit” he said.