Why Electronic Cigarettes Work: A New Study Suggests Some Answers

Previous studies suggest that electronic cigarettes are far better at helping people ‘quit’* than nicotine patches or lozenges.

But until now scientists have ignored why.

A new study aims to put that right by working out just why electronic cigarettes are so effective.

Why Electronic Cigarettes Work

Pictures of a young woman smoking and a man blowing vapour rings.
Vapers believe that the similarity between vaping and smoking is one reason e-cigarettes work.

Based on interviews with vapers, the study came up with five reasons vaping works.

1.Bio-Behavioural Feedback: Vaping Mimics Smoking

One reason e-cigs work is because they are so similar to cigarettes. Vapers highlighted the similarity of e-cigarettes to cigarettes, the feeling they get at the back of the throat when they inhale, and how electronic cigarettes took the place of tobacco cigarettes in their daily routine.

That feeling when it comes down and hits your throat and you inhale it – that’s like a big deal for us all.

2. Social Benefits

Group of people enjoying vaping.
UK Vapefest.

The huge support network available online and offline was also considered a reason for success – this was compared to nicotine patches:

You don’t hear about two people on the patch talking about their patches or what brand their [sic] trying or what not.

3. Hobby Elements

You don’t try different flavours and models with patches – but ex-smokers do with electronic cigarettes.

I don’t collect lighters now, I’m collecting juices and devices.

4. Personal Identity: Smokers relabelling themselves as vapers

Instead of calling themselves smokers, electronic cigarettes now call themselves vapers.

5. Quitting Smoking v. Quitting Nicotine

A final theme of the study was that participants didn’t feel an urgent need to quit nicotine – the priority was switching to a safer form of nicotine usage.

My goal is to be nicotine-free at some point, but I’m not in a hurry.

A downside of nicotine patches and gum is that they are meant to be temporary – and smokers know this.

Comparison Between Cessation Products and Electronic Cigarettes

Cigarette and nicotine gum.

The study pointed out the success rate of nicotine replacement therapy (7%) and electronic cigarettes (one study found that 22.5% of smokers stopped altogether with a further 32.5% cutting the amount they smoked by at least half).

The vapers interviewed had all tried regular quit smoking products before switching to e-cigarettes.

The vapers identified several drawbacks with regular quit smoking products:

  • side effects
  • relapses (one even smoked while using varenicline)
  • failure to replace the physcological craving for cigarettes


A couple enjoy their electronic cigarettes in front of a heart shaped ballon.

While the study was interesting and useful, it’s only representative of forum users. Some of the conclusions (social benefit and hobby elements) may not apply to people who just vape and don’t use forums and social networks.

That’s not to say the study isn’t useful – it is.

Many studies seem to start with a theory and then look for the evidence that supports it. Others have biases that affect their conclusions. For example, even some scientists who support electronic cigarettes assume that the devices are no more than a quit smoking aid.

One thing I love about this study is that it did the exact opposite. The authors talked to vapers, then drew their conclusions from what actual users said. And it also highlighted something which is obvious to many smokers and vapers but often ignored by scientists – quitting cigarettes is not just about the nicotine.

Read the original study: Barbeau, Burda & Siegel (2013) Perceived efficacy of e-cigarettes versus nicotine replacement therapy among successful e-cigarette users: a qualitative approach

*I say ‘quit’ because some smokers are in fact switching from one form of nicotine usage to another one. However, many scientists believe that the health benefits of switching are almost as good as quitting altogether.

Think others would find this post useful? I’d love it if you would share using one of the buttons below!

Thank you 😉

15 thoughts on “Why Electronic Cigarettes Work: A New Study Suggests Some Answers”

  1. Yeah, I saw this study yesterday. My biggest problem with it was that the group studied consisted of a whopping 11 people. Kind of a small sampling to use for reaching conclusions, don’t you think?

    I also think that the number of successful converts would be much higher if so many people didn’t try the crap convenience store models and immediately decide ecigs weren’t for them. It’d be far more revealing to know what models each people who had succeeded in switching used and which ones those who didn’t switch to e-cigarettes tried.

    Nonetheless, thanks for pointing out anything positive coming out about e-cigs. Those type of articles and studies are few and far between (although there are far more actual studies showing positive results from using e cigarettes than negative ones).

    1. My biggest problem with it was that the group studied consisted of a whopping 11 people. Kind of a small sampling to use for reaching conclusions, don’t you think?

      True, but in the study the authors did point out that they were handicapped for financial reasons, and that their conclusions should be taken as a basis for further study rather than as firm conclusions in themselves.

      Given the nature of the study (it’s looking for ideas why e-cigarettes are successful rather than coming up with health data) I think that it’s a good starting point.

      1. Yep, saw that too and agree that it’s a start. Since it was just a survey, I’m sure the Ashtray Blog would have far more participants than just 11 at a cost of, uhm, zero dollars.

        See if you can get a list of their questions and fire it up for the community to answer!

        1. If it was just a survey yes. But when you sit down with people and speak to them, recording and transcribing the time factor limits the amount of people you can speak to (plus the travel factor would limit the amount of respondents.)

  2. Yeah, like Scott said, 11 people isn’t exactly representative for the vaping community. I understand the small scale of this study has to do with financial reasons, but those anti-smoking/vaping zealots aren’t going to care about that. They’re just going to label it as meaningless and carry on with their propaganda.

    There have been a few interesting tests carried out recently, with pretty promising results, but until someone conducts some real research, we’re not going to make any real progress. Every doctor and anti-smoking group representative I’ve seen quoted on the matter of e-cigs has said something along the lines of “we don’t know enough about them”. Well if they’re so worried, why don’t they get the funding and run some real, objective studies, so they can show the world what their worries are based on. Why don’t e-cig companies? Surely they have some proper budgets these days…

    The FDA is expected to rule on whether e-cigs should be banned or regulated as drugs, and without any conclusive data, I wonder what they’ll base their decisions on? I’m afraid it’s not going to be studies like this one…

    1. What’s truly sad about this is that it seems like they go out of their way to find doctors who are anti-ecig. As an online retailer of these devices, I can tell you that not a month goes by where I don’t have some doctor calling me, asking for business cards because he has a patient who is a customer of ours in whom he is seeing very positive results. They want cards to hand out to their other patients who smoke because they see and hear the differences in their patients’ lungs who have made the switch – something that typically occurs inside of a week of switching to electronic cigarettes.

      Before getting into the business, I discovered e-cigarettes because of doctor’s recommendation, as a matter of fact!

  3. Ok, I get it. Qualitative research, focus groups and you just can’t have a large sample here, but you can have some valuable results.

    However, for the next time, my suggestion to researchers: try to find more people over 45 talking on this subject. If you have 4 people 18-24, another 4 25-44 and ONLY 3 aged 45-64, of course you’re going to get results where “sense of identity”, “hobby”, “community” and similar reasons are prevalent. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just that more talk to some of older vapers may well yield different answers prevailing.

    As someone appreciating e-cigs so much I started promoting them, I love writing about them and I love answering questions people all over the world ask me in e-mails. And as an e-cig promotor, I do collect stuff so that I can write reviews.

    However, as a vaper, I didn’t need any “new identity feeling”, “community” or new “hobby” to get me started. I just needed something workable in the long run, cause nothing else helped. No gum, no cold turkey, no knitting, not a single thing helped me quit permanently. And I didn’t even consider trying Chantix. (their site, read side-effects – that’s why).

    E-cig works for me 100%. Simple reason: it mimics the cigarette experience AND tastes better. At the same time I know the health benefits. This awareness of very little initial efforts for gaining huge benefits – that’s it. And I believe that’s how many us older folks:) think.

  4. Florin:

    1. “Every doctor and anti-smoking group representative I’ve seen quoted on the matter of e-cigs has said something along the lines of “we don’t know enough about them”. Well if they’re so worried, why don’t they get the funding and run some real, objective studies, so they can show the world what their worries are based on.”

    Any medic saying that, has an anti-ecig agenda otherwise they wouldn’t lie about the research. There is plenty, certainly on the ingredients. We do know ‘enough about them’. There is also the point that if those same medics run trials, the results are the sort of junk science attack we are used to.

    2. “Why don’t e-cig companies [pay for studies]? Surely they have some proper budgets these days…”

    True. But when they do run studies, those studies are ignored. See Point #1 🙂

    You won’t get away from the fact that too many medics either depend on pharma for their perks, or think that consumer products should be medicalised – so that pharma can pay them even more ‘perks’.

  5. @Scott: I’m happy to hear that, but why aren’t these doctors more open about their findings and more supportive of this helpful new device they’ve discovered. We could definitely use more support from the medical field.

    @Chris: 1. I know there are a lot anti-vaping characters talking bull about e-cigs, but honestly, I think more research is needed. Sure, I know that I feel a lot better since I switched from analogs, that my food tastes infinitely better, and that’s enough for me. But as far as scientific data is concerned, we don’t have that much to go on. We need some serious research, but no one seems too eager to conduct it, for various reasons.

    2. Well, studies get ignored by the media, but surely the vaping community knows about them. Do you know of any LARGE SCALE study backed by e-cig companies? Sure the bad guys didn’t conduct any either, but they have media support, they’re really good at lobbying, and that seems to be enough. I agree that most medics are under Big Pharma’s thumb, but we actually have some supporters of e-cigs too, like Dr. Michael Siegel, so I’m sure if someone tried really hard they could find some objective minds to run proper studies.

    1. Well, there is the current survey study being done by Penn Sate that is quite massive in scale along with the follow-up clinical trial associated with – https://redcap.ctsi.psu.edu/redcap/surveys/?s=v94cbA

      Then, there is also a pretty major clinical trial is being conducted in Australia right now. Unfortunately, if it isn’t being done by the Unites States, it doesn’t really seem to matter – https://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/experts-wary-of-ecigarettes-as-test-run-looms-20130304-2ffv0.html

      1. @scott, that’s good to hear – I didn’t know about that.

        @Florin, I do agree – we need research funded by ecig companies. Most research into smoking is funded by pharmaceutical organisations, which is something we can point out in our when people say any research carried out by ecig companies is invalid.

  6. Another positive study about e-cigs – great! My heart rose.

    Read the article, then the comments – only 11 participants. Heart sank again.

    Followed the link to the study and read that; heart lifted again. It might be a very small and limited study but it was very, very detailed, thorough and carried out in an impeccably professional manner by professional, qualified “experts” whose opinions and conclusions carry far more weight than mine ever will. Best of all – it has been peer-reviewed and PUBLISHED.

    We can point to this, link to it and refer to it as expert opinion in precisely and exactly the same way that the execrable Daily Mail could NOT in their recent (and now withdrawn) nonsense article claiming “experts” thought e-cigs could be more dangerous than tobacco.

    I’m left wishing that someone in the UK would do something similar here, maybe by attending some vaper meets? Pretty much anyone who attends events like that would be more than pleased to ‘donate’ an hour or two of their time to any academics who might care to show up to quiz them. Heck, they’d probably even buy them a drink! That would keep the study costs down, wouldn’t it?!

    Overall, many thanks for the mood-lifter, James. You’re doing exceptionally well for them this month – keep ’em coming! And of course sincere gratitude and respect to Messrs. Barbeau, Burda & Siegel.

  7. “I’m left wishing that someone in the UK would do something similar here, maybe by attending some vaper meets?”

    That’s a great idea! Perhaps with volunteer interviewers and transcribers so costs could be kept to a minimum.

  8. I am an edit user and have been for over a year. I personally feel like it helped save me alot of health issues, while still being able to enjoy smoking/vamping. I have told so many and try to encourage a smoker to give it a fair try for at least a week. You will feel better, smell better, look better and be able to meet your nicotine need anywhere locally. I love it and definitely recommend it! Good Luck?

  9. Pingback: Why Do Electronic Cigarettes Work? Seven users explain why vaping worked for them.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top