Researchers in Britain and New Zealand have found a potential new use for electronic cigarettes in smokers who want to give up—controlling appetite and limiting the weight gain that often comes with quitting.
In a review published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, the scientists found that it's the nicotine in cigarettes that makes smokers less likely to overeat, and suggested e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but no tobacco, may help prevent them from eating too much when they quit.
E-cigarettes, which heat nicotine-laced flavored liquids into a vapor, have rapidly grown into a global "vaping" market that was estimated at around $7 billion in 2015.
Smoking tobacco, which can lead to fatal illness, is known to suppress appetite and smokers often say they smoke to keep their body weight in check. People who quit tobacco frequently say they put on weight after giving up, and the risk of getting fatter can deter smokers from trying to stop.
"Weight gain prevents some smokers from quitting, so we need to explore alternative ways of helping these (people) control their weight while removing the risks of tobacco," said Linda Bauld, a Stirling University health policy professor and deputy director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.
Many public health specialists think e-cigarettes, or vapes, are a lower-risk alternative to smoking, but some question their long-term safety and note that they are not risk-free.
Bauld said "the benefits of e-cigarettes for smokers have been shown to far outweigh the harms, as vaping carries around 5 percent of the risk of smoking". But she but stressed that her team did not find evidence to support any promotion of e-cigarettes to non-smokers who want to stay slim.
For smokers trying to quit and prevent weight gain, however, the researchers said e-cigarettes with food flavorings may replicate some of the sensations of eating.
This coupled with the vapor in electronic cigarettes and the hand to mouth actions of vaping could play a role in helping potential quitters to eat less, they said in their review.
Health specialists not directly involved in the review said its findings were interesting but should be taken with great caution, particularly with regard to non-smokers and non-vapers.
"E-cigarettes are an effective strategy to help people stop smoking and improve their health. If they also help smokers who quit to limit weight gain that would be a bonus, though not yet proven," said Susan Jebb, a professor of diet and population health at Oxford University.
"But e-cigarettes are not harmless and there is no evidence they aid weight loss, so are not recommended for non-smokers."