Smokers trying to quit are 60 percent more likely to report success if they switch to e-cigarettes than if they use nicotine products like patches or gum, or just willpower, scientists said on Tuesday.
Presenting findings from a study of almost 6,000 smokers over five years, the researchers said the results suggest e-cigarettes could play an important role in reducing smoking rates and hence cutting tobacco-related deaths and illnesses.
As well as causing lung cancer and other chronic respiratory diseases, tobacco smoking is also a major contributor to cardiovascular diseases, the world's number one killer.
"E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking," said Robert West of University College London's epidemiology and public health department, who led the study.
Mainly funded by the charity Cancer Research UK and published in the journal Addiction, West's study surveyed 5,863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had tried to quit without using prescription medicines or professional help.
The results were adjusted for a range of factors that might influence success at quitting, West said - including age, nicotine dependence, previous attempts to give up smoking, and whether quitting was gradual or abrupt.