Abstract

Background and Aims:

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been steadily increasing in popularity among smokers, most of whom report using them to quit smoking. This study systematically reviews the current literature on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as cessation aids.

Methods:

We searched PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, ERIC, ROVER, Scopus, ISI Web of Science, Cochrane Library, the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU) library catalogue, and various gray literature sources. We included all English-language, empirical quantitative and qualitative papers that investigated primary cessation outcomes (smoking abstinence or reduction) or secondary outcomes (abstinence-related withdrawal symptoms and craving reductions) and were published on or before February 1, 2016.

Results:

Literature searches identified 2855 references. After removing duplicates and screening for eligibility, 62 relevant references were reviewed and appraised. In accordance with the GRADE system, the quality of the evidence in support of e-cigarettes’ effectiveness in helping smokers quit was assessed as very low to low, and the evidence on smoking reduction was assessed as very low to moderate. The majority of included studies found that e-cigarettes, especially second-generation types, could alleviate smoking withdrawal symptoms and cravings in laboratory settings.

Conclusions:

While the majority of studies demonstrate a positive relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking cessation, the evidence remains inconclusive due to the low quality of the research published to date. Well-designed randomized controlled trials and longitudinal, population studies are needed to further elucidate the role of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation.

Implications:

This is the most comprehensive systematic evidence review to examine the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking cessation among smokers. This review offers balanced and rigorous qualitative and quantitative analyses of published evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarette use for smoking abstinence and reduction as well as important outcomes such as withdrawal symptoms and craving to smoke. While inconclusive due to low quality, overall the existing literature suggests e-cigarettes may be helpful for some smokers for quitting or reducing smoking. However, more carefully designed and scientifically sound studies are urgently needed to establish unequivocally the long-term cessation effects of e-cigarettes and to better understand of how and when e-cigarettes may be helpful.

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