Electronic cigarettes show promise in helping people stop smoking but experts from the University of Stirling believe they could also help smokers and vapers control their weight.
A review of existing research published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research has found nicotine has an inhibitory effect on appetite and assists with weight control.
Researchers in New Zealand and the UK believe that e-liquids with food flavourings may replicate some of the sensations of eating. This coupled with the vapour in electronic cigarettes and the hand to mouth actions of vaping, could play a role in helping people who want to quit smoking, to eat less.
Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling and Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, is among the experts exploring whether vaping with or without nicotine could help people ignore cravings for sweets and other foods.
Professor Bauld said: “Several lines of investigation are worth pursuing in the fight against obesity and this review sets out an initial research agenda for how e-cigarettes could play a part in helping people who smoke or vape control their weight, particularly if they are trying to stop smoking.
“Weight gain prevents some smokers from quitting so we need to explore alternative ways of helping these individuals control their weight, while removing the risks of tobacco use. The benefits of e-cigarettes for smokers have been shown to far outweigh the harms, as vaping carries around 5% of the risk of smoking. However, this paper is not suggesting that we should promote e-cigarettes to non-smokers or non-vapers for weight management.
“Our health care systems are currently struggling to cope with caring for people with chronic conditions caused by obesity and smoking. Even controversial approaches that could contribute to current efforts to address this are worth investigating.”
The research, which is in early stages, does not examine e-cigarettes as a weight loss method for people who do not currently vape or smoke, only for overweight individuals who already do so or are considering vaping for smoking cessation. Questions around longevity of vaping for weight loss or weight maintenance are also yet to be scrutinized.
Lead author, Associate Professor Glover of Massey University in New Zealand, added: “Obesity is set to overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause of disease and early death in several countries. If there is a chance that flavoured vaping could help even a small proportion of people reduce the diabetes, cardiovascular and cancer risks associated with excess weight, the population health gains would be significant.”
With early evidence suggesting that certain e-cigarette flavours show promise as a way of reducing vapers’ food intake, experts believe flavours may become increasingly important in considering any potential health benefits of vaping.
Linda Bauld is Professor of Health Policy and Director of the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling and Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. She conducts trials and observational studies of smoking cessation interventions and is a former scientific adviser on tobacco control to the UK government. She is currently involved in research to examine young people’s and pregnant women’s perceptions of electronic cigarettes and e-cigarettes for smoking cessation in people with lung cancer.