Daily e-cigarette use proves effective in helping smokers quit regular cigarettes

While the debate about the overall health risks of electronic cigarettes continues, MGH researchers have found the first long-term evidence that smokers of traditional combustible cigarettes who use e-cigarettes daily are more than twice as likely to quit smoking permanently.

The team analyzed data from 8,000 adult smokers from the first three years of the Population Health and Assessment of Tobacco and Health study, a survey representative of the adult population in the United States.

At the start of the study:

  • 3.6 percent of smokers were current daily e-cigarette users.
  • 18 percent were non-daily e-cigarette users.
  • 78 percent did not use e-cigarettes.

During a two-year period, e-cigarette users reported a higher rate of prolonged absence from smoking – 11 percent – than non-users – 6 percent. Smokers who used e-cigarettes occasionally but not daily also were more likely to demonstrate prolonged abstinence from smoking.

“This finding suggests that smokers who use e-cigarettes to quit smoking need to use them regularly – every day – for these products to be most helpful,” says Sara Kalkhoran, MD, MAS, MGH Primary Care physician and lead author of the study.

“Smokers who plan to stop smoking should still be encouraged to first use FDA-approved therapies rather than e-cigarettes,” says Nancy Rigotti, MD, senior author of the paper and director of the MGH Tobacco Research and Treatment Center. FDA-approved therapies include varenicline, bupropion or nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.

“But this study suggests e-cigarettes may be helpful for some smokers who are not able to quit with these existing treatments,” Rigotti says.

Untapped information from chest X-rays could help predict future health risks

An MGH research team recently created a new tool powered by artificial intelligence that was successful in identifying individuals at risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and other disorders in the 12 years following a standard diagnostic chest X-ray.

The tool, called CXR-risk, was trained by comparing 85,000 chest X-rays from 42,000 patients with each patient’s survival rate over a 12-year period. The goal was for the tool to “learn” the features of a chest X-ray that best predicted a patient’s future health and risk of death.

To validate the tool, the team then had it analyze chest X-rays from 16,000 additional patients and assign a risk level to each one. They found that 53 percent of those identified as high risk died in the 12-year period after the X-ray was taken, compared to fewer than 4 percent of those labeled as very low risk.

“It may be possible to improve outcomes for these at-risk patients through earlier screening and preventive medicine,” says Michael Lu, MD, MPH, director of Research in the Division of Cardiovascular Imaging and lead author of the study. “This is a new way to extract prognostic information from everyday diagnostic tests. It’s information that is already there that we are not using, that could improve people’s health.”