New study suggests that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes could help prevent weight gain, a major concern amongst those hoping to quit smoking
E-cigarettes might help smokers who are quitting keep the pounds off, say researchers, suggesting that vaping could be harnessed in the fight against obesity.
Weight gain is a major concern among smokers looking to quit. On average individuals put on 5kg in the first year they go without cigarettes. Nicotine is known to suppress appetite and increase metabolic rate, among other effects.
While nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) can help to control weight gain and help smokers to quit, researchers have suggested that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes might be a better option.
“People can change their nicotine content, so to quit smoking they might start off on a higher strength e-liquid and then they can taper down really quite gradually in a much more sophisticated way than they can with NRT, which is probably good for weight maintenance and for weight loss,” said co-author Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling and deputy director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. The huge range of e-liquids available, she adds, could also help prevent snacking, particularly given the number of sweet and fruit flavours on offer.
The authors note that a drop in the prevalence of smoking is among the factors that have been linked to increasing rates of obesity, meaning new approaches to manage weight gain could prove valuable.
Published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research by scientists from New Zealand and Stirling, the paper looked at a range of studies exploring the influence of nicotine on the body, as well as the relationships between aroma, taste and flavour and the feeling of fullness, to moot the potential for e-cigarettes in managing weight gain among smokers trying to kick the habit.
The authors suggest that e-cigarettes, with their myriad flavours, could potentially help to tackle cravings for certain foods. What’s more, the study suggests that the physical processes involved in filling an e-cigarette could reduce the urge to eat.
“You are re-filling the e-liquids, you might be mixing your own liquids, you are trying different flavours, you are doing things with your hands that take up time which means maybe you are not reaching for the bowl of M&Ms,” said Bauld.
Despite noting concerns raised by some around the safety of long-term e-cigarette use, Bauld says the research points to the benefits of using nicotine-containing products for smokers planning to quit.
“One of the things this paper says is [that] probably we shouldn’t be so worried about longer-term nicotine use, particularly if it can help people not put on weight – which we know is a bit risk factor for diabetes and a lot of other things,” she said.
But, the authors note, much more research is need. They highlight a number of avenues that should be explored, from trials into the effects of vaping on weight gain among smokers attempting to quit, to the impact of different e-liquids on feelings of fullness.
“We are not suggesting that we should promote e-cigarettes to people who haven’t smoked,” said Bauld. “But for people who are thinking about the best way to stop smoking and are concerned about weight gain, I think what we are suggesting is that e-cigarettes should certainly be considered.”
Paul Aveyard, professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Oxford, said it was “almost certain” that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes would reduce weight gain among smokers attempting to quit. But, he cautioned, the possible benefits of e-cigarettes in managing weight gain among ex-smokers did not mean that they could benefit non smokers’ attempts to lose weight.
What’s more, he added, with some evidence that nicotine could play a role in the development of diabetes, there may be down sides to the use of such devices, even if they do help smokers keep the weight off. “That balance between the two effects is not known,” he said.
Amanda Sandford, from Action on Smoking and Health said: “The risk of putting on weight when quitting smoking is a common concern and can discourage smokers from trying to stop. E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to tobacco and if they can also help people avoid piling on the pounds as well as helping them to stop smoking that is a real bonus.”