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​Are Vapes More Effective Than NRT's to Replace Cigarettes?

10th May 2024

Are Vapes More Effective Than NRT's to Replace Cigarettes?

Stubbed Out Cigarette

The addictive nature of the chemical compound nicotine cannot be denied. High levels of nicotine are found in cigarettes (although it’s not stated on each packet how much exactly). So even though for decades we have known the dangers to human health when smoking, and the thousands of lethal toxins inside each cigarette, it’s still difficult to stop. Like with any addictive substance, such as caffeine or sugar. What nicotine replacement therapies do is slowly help you wean off the naturally produced alkaloid found in tobacco leaves.

With lots of different options available over the years, such as nicotine gum, slow-releasing nicotine patches, nasal sprays and medicines such as currently unavailable in the UK but previously popular Champix (Varenicline), smokers do have choices.

However, many do find it very challenging to permanently quit cigarettes with just one aid and often combine a variety to reduce the chances of resisting the temptation. Recently, we’ve seen the emergence of e-cigarettes (also known as vapes) as an alternative to traditional nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which is recommended by the likes of the NHS, British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

So, we want to answer the question of whether vaping is ‘more effective’ than other NRT’s as a second possible method to help quit smoking. And whether it should be used as a sole product, combined with other NRT products and even with smoking aid services such as counselling through the NHS.

To better understand, first, we need to explain the ins and outs of an NRT.

What is Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)?

The NHS explains that Nicotine Replacement Therapy, or NRT for short, is a medicine that provides you with a ‘low level of nicotine, without the tar, carbon monoxide and other poisonous chemicals present in tobacco smoke’.

As well as popular choices like nicotine gum or patches, there are a few other nicotine alternatives such as sprays in the throat, lozenges, tablets or inhalators to wean you off nicotine – each with varying results and side effects.

With smoking, we know it’s an addictive habit that often builds up over many years from an early age, costing thousands of pounds per year and seriously impacting physical and mental health. It’s estimated that roughly eight million people annually die from smoking-related illnesses, with 70,000 of those in the UK alone.

It’sa serious problem with the UK government hoping to reduce smoking prevalence by 2030 below 5%. Therefore, nicotine replacement products are vital to combat this issue on not just a UK scale but globally, as highlighted by the latest 2024 World Health Organisation report.

How Safe is Nicotine Replacement Therapy?

Nicotine replacement therapy products have been around for decades and have provided a safe alternative to cigarettes, which are available via prescription or to purchase in supermarkets and retail shops.

They contain nicotine which is released in different ways but are only carrying chemicals which can cause mild side effects. In comparison to continuing to smoke, it’s much better for a person’s health to swap cigarettes for NRT’s.

Quote from Ralph M

What are the Best Nicotine Replacement Products?

The NHS reports that all quit-smoking products are effective, particularly when used with Stop Smoking Services.

As explained on theirsmoking treatment page, it’sa good idea to consult your doctor, because everybody has different health concerns or circumstances, which could determine the best course of action for the individual.

What’s important to recognise is the difficulty that can take place when stopping smoking cold turkey. Such is the addictive nature of cigarettes that giving them up suddenly without slowly weaning off could be a near-impossible task for many. Therefore, a combination of NRT products and support services is the best nicotine replacement.

Can Vapes Be Just as Effective as NRT’s?

A recent 2022 review highlighted by the NHS suggested that e-cigarettes could be twice as effective as other NRT’s to reduce nicotine levels compared to smoking, helping people to quit. When you compare the smoking figures decreasing year on year, with six million currently in the UK, and four million plus vapers in the UK, which is increasing, you can see the correlation between the two numbers falling and rising respectively.

Despite the negative press vaping has had with concern about disposable vapes, which will be banned from April 2025 in the UK (a positive step to address youth vaping), it has helped millions of adults quit smoking.

Vaping vs NRT’s - Comparing Side Effects and Response

Most smokers looking to quit go down one of two routes – they first try patches or nicotine gum to see if either works. Initially, research shows that any form of NRT will work, at least in the initial stage.

Nicotine patches for example are slow-release products into the bloodstream, which you can find in all good pharmacies and supermarkets. Studies have also been carried out to see whether ‘pre-loading' - which means wearing a patch before quitting, can also help people quit smoking more successfully.

This had mixed results but did show a slightly better chance of quitting when pre-loading. However, with nicotine patches, there are known side effects, including skin irritation, nausea, headaches and poor sleep, which can happen at any time while wearing patches.

Studies show from most nicotine products or NRT’s that there can be dizziness, upset stomach or headaches, while there may be irritation of the throat, nose or eyes when using a nasal spray.

Symptoms can vary based on the individual and their reaction to NRT’s. For smokers, it’s recognised that sprays, gum and inhalators can create faster working effects on the body and mind.

So how does this compare to vaping? E-cigarettes are proving to be twice as effective as other NRT methods because it’s one of the fastest releases of nicotine into the bloodstream. Plus, it’svery similar in habit to smoking, so it psychologically plays a part too in your quit-smoking attempt.

Do E-Cigarettes Have Side Effects Too?

Yes, while research is still not as extensive on vaping as it is with smoking, early studies do show there can be side effects because it’s a product that holds nicotine too. As we have explained in a blog we have previously covered about the side effects of vaping, it's still recommended by health professionals as a viable alternative for adults who already smoke.

This is because vapes do not contain chemicals such as tobacco, tar, carbon monoxide and the thousands of other dangerous chemicals recognised in cigarettes.

What About NRT Tablets?

For those who go down the route of strictly oral medicine, there are a couple of medicines in recent times that have been prescribed to help treat addiction to smoking. In the past, there was Varenicline under the brand name Champix which was only available by prescription. It was supposed to block the signals in the brain which create the effects of reward and reinforcing effects of cigarettes. However, in 2021 it was recalled due to impurities found in the medicine and is no longer used in the UK.

Another alternative prescribed by the NHS is Bupropion under the brand name of Zyban which works similarly and is available currently via prescription.

Noted as a medicine to treat depression, it’snot quite clear from medical research carried out how exactly it helps to stop smoking habits. A course of treatment is expected to last between 7-9 weeks.

Man applying nicotine patch

Nicotine Patches and Gum

Both nicotine gum and nicotine patches stop smoking treatments are slow-release products which can be found in chemists and most supermarkets. They’re advised by the NHS as useful NRT products but are not considered as effective as vapes for example due to the slow-release effects. Instead, they should be used as a combined effect with other NRT alternatives.

Absorbing nicotine through patches can take hours but is proven to be effective throughout the day. The typical best places to put a nicotine patch are the inner or upper arm, shoulder, back or upper chest. Side effects can include itchiness, burning, red patches, upset stomach, and even difficulty sleeping.

In comparison, nicotine gum can cause distress and feelings of nausea if chewed regularly. Nicotine gum does not give you the buzz that vaping or smoking does, but it provides a controlled amount of nicotine to sustain over a longer period. It’s recommended that you only take for 12 weeks with the hope that you can help to stop smoking, but not be chewed permanently.

Conclusion: Can Vaping Work?

Medical studies show that a vape kit can be twice as effective as other nicotine replacement therapies, and it’s clear why. In the past, it may have been NRT medicines by prescription. And that is still a possibility for some who want to go down that route. But for the majority of those who wish to quit smoking permanently, a combination of NRT products or a vape device is the best bet when mixed with stop-smoking services provided by the NHS or private counselling.

Vaping has worked for millions in the UK because it still provides a steady amount of nicotine which can be selected based on matching the strength of the nicotine smoked previously. And because the hand-to-mouth action with a nicotine product in the hand and inhaling on the mouthpiece is the same as smoking, this is why organisations like the NHS are suggesting e-cigarettes are twice as effective as other NRT products.  

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