New research from the Queen Mary University of London finds e-cigs are more effective than nicotine patches in helping pregnant women who smoke quit and are just as safe. The ground-breaking study was published this week in the Nature Medicine journal and has echoed through the editorial departments of UK media organisations.
“While many women stop smoking when they become pregnant,” says the Queen Mary team, “some find it difficult to stop, particularly those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.”
What is the common approach for pregnant smokers?
The team say 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.
What did the research team find?
The new study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), shows that, as with smokers who are not pregnant, e-cigarettes may be more effective than nicotine patches and do not pose any greater risks to mothers or babies during pregnancy.
What did they do?
The research team recruited 1,140 pregnant smokers and split them into two groups. One was given e-cigarettes, while the other was given nicotine patches. Quit rates in the two study arms were similar, but some successful quitters in the patch group stopped smoking using e-cigarettes rather than patches. When this was controlled for, the e-cigarette group had better-proven quit rates at end of pregnancy than the patch group.
What happened at birth?
Birth outcomes were similar for both groups, equalling that of non-smokers, but the birth weights of the babies in the vaping group were notably improved – the team says this is because the women using e-cigs smoked less.
What did members of the team say?
Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at the Queen Mary University of London, said: “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. 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.”
Dr Francesca Pesola, one of the other authors added: “Many pregnant smokers find it difficult to quit with current stop smoking medications including nicotine patches and continue to smoke throughout pregnancy.
“We would only recommend the use of nicotine to smokers wanting to quit their regular cigarettes. But, using an e-cigarette poses no greater risk to the mother or baby than nicotine patches, which are both better options than continuing to smoke throughout pregnancy.”