Background: Electronic cigarettes (ECs) are becoming increasingly popular globally. If they were to replace conventional cigarettes, it could have a substantial impact on public health. To evaluate EC's potential for competing with conventional cigarettes as a consumer product, we report the first data, to our knowledge, on the proportion of smokers who try ECs and become regular users.
Methods: A total of 2,012 people seen smoking or buying cigarettes in the Czech Republic were approached to answer questions about smoking, with no mention made of ECs to avoid the common bias in surveys of EC users. During the interview, the volunteers' experience with ECs was then discussed.
Results: A total of 1,738 smokers (86%) participated. One-half reported trying ECs at least once. Among those who tried ECs, 18.3% (95% CI, 0.15.7%-20.9%) reported using them regularly, and 14% (95% CI, 11.6%-16.2%) used them daily. On average, regular users used ECs daily for 7.1 months. The most common reason for using ECs was to reduce consumption of conventional cigarettes; 60% of regular EC users reported that ECs helped them to achieve this. Being older and having a more favorable initial experience with ECs explained 19% of the variance in progressing to regular EC use.
Conclusions: Almost one-fifth of smokers who try ECs once go on to become regular users. ECs may develop into a genuine competitor to conventional cigarettes. Government agencies preparing to regulate ECs need to ensure that such moves do not create a market monopoly for conventional cigarettes.