Effects of Nicotine Versus Placebo E-Cigarette Use on Symptom Relief During Initial Tobacco Abstinence

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Because electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) containing nicotine may relieve smoking abstinence symptoms similar to nicotine replacement therapy medication, we used within-subjects designs to test these effects with a first-generation e-cig in nonquitting and quitting smokers. In Study 1, 28 nontreatment-seeking smokers abstained overnight prior to each of 3 sessions. Minnesota Nicotine Withdrawal Scale (MNWS) withdrawal (and craving item) relief was assessed following 4 exposures (each 10 puffs) over 2 hr to e-cigs that either did (36 mg/ml) or did not (i.e., placebo, 0 mg/ml) contain nicotine or after no e-cig. Relief was greater after nicotine versus placebo e-cig (p < .05) but not after placebo versus no e-cig, showing relief was due to nicotine per se and not simple e-cig use behavior. Using a crossover design in Study 2, smokers preparing to quit soon engaged in 2 experimental 4-day quit periods on separate weeks. In weeks 1 and 3, all received a nicotine or placebo e-cig on Monday to use ad libitum while trying to abstain from smoking on Tuesday through Friday. (Week 2 involved resumption of ad libitum smoking.) MNWS and Questionnaire of Smoking Urges (QSU) craving were assessed at daily visits following 24-hr abstinence. Of 17 enrolled, 12 quit for ≥24 hr at least once, allowing test of relief because of e-cig use on quit days. Withdrawal and craving were reduced because of nicotine versus placebo e-cig use (both p < .05). In sum, compared with placebo e-cigs, nicotine e-cigs can relieve smoking abstinence symptoms, perhaps in a manner similar to Food and Drug Administration–approved nicotine replacement therapy products, although much more research with larger samples is needed.

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