A Randomized Trial Comparing the Effect of Nicotine Versus Placebo Electronic Cigarettes on Smoking Reduction Among Young Adult Smokers

Nicotine Tob Res. 2016 Oct;18(10):1937-1943. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntw017. Epub 2016 Jan 17.


Introduction: Electronic cigarette (EC) use is growing dramatically with use highest among young adults and current smokers. One of the most common reasons for using ECs is interest in quitting or reducing cigarettes per day (CPD); however there are few randomized controlled trials (RCT) on the effect of ECs on smoking abstinence and reduction.

Methods: We conducted a two-arm; double-blind RCT. Subjects were randomized to receive 3-weeks of either disposable 4.5% nicotine EC (intervention) or placebo EC. The primary outcome was self-reported reduction of at least 50% in the number of CPDs smoked at week 3 (end of treatment) compared to baseline. Study subjects (n = 99) were young adult (21-35), current smokers (smoked ≥ 10 CPDs) living in NYC.

Results: Compared with baseline, a significant reduction in CPDs was observed at both study time periods (1 and 3 weeks) for intervention (P < .001) and placebo (P < .001) groups. Between-group analyses showed significantly fewer CPDs in the intervention group compared to the placebo group at week 3 (P = .03), but not at any other follow-up periods. The logistic regression analysis showed that using a greater number of ECs, treatment condition and higher baseline readiness to quit were significantly associated with achieving at least 50% reduction in CPDs at the end of treatment.

Conclusion: A diverse young adult sample of current everyday smokers, who were not ready to quit, was able to reduce smoking with the help of ECs. Further study is needed to establish the role of both placebo and nicotine containing ECs in increasing both reduction and subsequent cessation.

Implications: Despite the critical need for well-designed clinical trials on the effect of ECs on cessation and cigarette reduction, the majority of studies have been observational or noncomparative intervention designs. Only three RCTs studying ECs as a cessation or reduction intervention have been published, and none were conducted in the United States. The current study adds knowledge to current literature on the feasibility of using ECs to aid smoking reduction among young smokers in US urban populations.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Prevention*
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotine