Helping pregnant smokers quit: a multi-centre randomised controlled trial of electronic cigarettes versus nicotine replacement therapy



Przulj D, Pesola F, Myers Smith K, McRobbie H, Coleman T, Lewis S, Griffith C, Walton R, Whitemore R, Clark M, Ussher M, Sinclair L, Seager E, Cooper S & Bauld L (2023) Helping pregnant smokers quit: a multi-centre randomised controlled trial of electronic cigarettes versus nicotine replacement therapy. Health Technology Assessment, 27 (13), pp. 1-53.

Background Some pregnant smokers try e-cigarettes, but effectiveness and safety of such use are unknown. Objectives To compare effectiveness and safety of nicotine patches and e-cigarettes in pregnancy. Design A pragmatic multi-centre randomised controlled trial. Setting Twenty-three hospitals across England, and a Stop Smoking Service in Scotland. Participants One thousand one hundred and forty pregnant daily smokers (12–24 weeks’ gestation) motivated to stop smoking, with no strong preference for using nicotine patches or e-cigarettes. Interventions Participants in the e-cigarette arm were posted a refillable e-cigarette device with two 10 ml bottles of tobacco-flavoured e-liquid (18 mg nicotine). Participants in the nicotine patches arm were posted a 2-week supply of 15 mg/16-hour nicotine patches. Supplies were provided for up to 8 weeks. Participants sourced further supplies themselves as needed. Participants in both arms received support calls prior to their target quit date, on the quit date, and weekly for the next 4 weeks. Outcome measures The primary outcome was validated prolonged abstinence at the end of pregnancy. Participants lost to follow-up or not providing biochemical validation were included as non-abstainers. Secondary outcomes included self-reported abstinence at different time points, treatment adherence and safety outcomes. Results Only 55% of self-reported abstainers mailed back useable saliva samples. Due to this, validated sustained abstinence rates were low (6.8% vs. 4.4% in the e-cigarettes and nicotine patches arms, respectively, risk ratio = 1.55, 95% confidence interval 0.95 to 2.53; Bayes factor = 2.7). In a pre-specified sensitivity analysis that excluded abstainers using non-allocated products, the difference became significant (6.8% vs. 3.6%, risk ratio = 1.93, 95% confidence interval 1.14 to 3.26; Bayes factor = 10). Almost a third of the sample did not set a target quit date and the uptake of support calls was low, as was the initial product use. At end of pregnancy, 33.8% versus 5.6% of participants were using their allocated product in the e-cigarettes versus nicotine patches arm (risk ratio = 6.01, 95% confidence interval 4.21 to 8.58). Regular use of e-cigarettes in the nicotine patches arm was more common than use of nicotine replacement products in the e-cigarette arm (17.8% vs. 2.8%). Rates of adverse events and adverse birth outcomes were similar in the two study arms, apart from participants in the e-cigarette arm having fewer infants with low birthweight (<2500 g) (9.6% vs. 14.8%, risk ratio = 0.65, 95% confidence interval 0.47 to 0.90; Bayes factor = 10.3). Limitations Low rates of validation reduced the study power. A substantial proportion of participants did not use the support on offer sufficiently to test its benefits. Sample size may have been too small to detect differences in less frequent adverse effects. Conclusions E-cigarettes were not significantly more effective than nicotine patches in the primary analysis, but when e-cigarettes use in the nicotine patches arm was accounted for, e-cigarettes were almost twice as effective as patches in all abstinence outcomes. In pregnant smokers seeking help, compared to nicotine patches, e-cigarettes are probably more effective, do not pose more risks to birth outcomes assessed in this study and may reduce the incidence of low birthweight. Future work Routine monitoring of smoking cessation and birth outcomes in pregnant women using nicotine patches and e-cigarettes and further studies are needed to confirm these results. Trial registration This trial is registered as ISRCTN62025374 and Eudract 2017-001237-65. Funding This project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 27, No. 13. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information

Health Policy

Additional authors: Felix Naughton; Peter Sasieni; Isaac Manyonda; Peter Hajek

Health Technology Assessment: Volume 27, Issue 13

FundersNational Institute for Health Research
Publication date31/07/2023
Publication date online31/07/2023
Date accepted by journal01/07/2023
PublisherNational Institute for Health and Care Research

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Professor Michael Ussher

Professor Michael Ussher

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Institute for Social Marketing