E-cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches as an aid to quit smoking, a new study has found.
University of Auckland researchers recruited 657 smokers to take part in the trial to test the effectiveness of e-cigarettes over other treatments to stop smoking.
The world-first study found 7.3% of participants using e-cigarettes managed to quit smoking, only slightly higher than the 5.8% of those who used nicotine patches or gum.
However, e-cigarettes proved to be more effective than the other options at helping participants smoke fewer cigarettes, said associate professor and lead researcher Chris Bullen.
"While our results don't show any clear-cut differences between e-cigarettes and patches in terms of quit success after six months, it certainly seems that e-cigarettes were more effective in helping smokers who didn't quit to cut down," he said.
Nearly 60% of smokers using e-cigarettes who did not manage to quit during the six months had "markedly reduced" the number of cigarettes they smoked.
Just 41% of those who had failed to quit using patches had cut down.
Government-funded Quitline uses nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, but with their support programme around 20% of smokers give up.
Quitline chief executive Paula Snowden said e-cigarettes only prolong the behaviour associated with smoking.
"E-cigarettes are only ever an effective tool at the beginning of the quit journey," she said.
The trial has also cleared up some health concerns about e-cigarettes.
"Six months use of electronic cigarettes were very safe," senior researcher Natalie Walker said.
"Very low side effects similar to what you'd get with nicotine replacement therapy."
At the end of the trial nine out of 10 participants who used e-cigarettes said they would recommend them to others.