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For his University of Liverpool online Master of Public Health (MPH) dissertation research, Fayyaz Samji looked into the effectiveness of electronic (‘e-‘) cigarettes in helping people to stop smoking. He came up with some surprising results that are having an impact in Ontario, Canada.

Fayyaz collaborated with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit and with professors from the University of Toronto to study data from 2,000 smokers. “We looked to see whether they were able to reduce or actually quit smoking, using e-cigarettes as a cessation aid,” said Fayyaz, who graduated in July 2016.

“My dissertation added a new dimension to existing Canadian public health research in that it considered the effectiveness of nicotine-free electronic cigarettes as a potential cessation aid,” he said, “This was important because the sale of the other type of e-cigarettes – those containing some nicotine – is currently illegal in Canada.”

Fayyaz explained that as e-cigarettes are still a relatively new phenomenon, the law is not widely enforced. He was able to study smokers using both types of e-cigarettes. “It was a great setting to carry out a comparison to see whether or not nicotine-free e-cigarettes could be used as a cessation aid because there are a lot of harmful effects with respect to nicotine.”

Surprising research findings

Fayyaz found that 76% of the surveyed population managed to reduce their cigarette smoking by using e-cigarettes. “Forty-eight percent of them reported quitting for six months without even smoking a puff – using e-cigarettes as a treatment,” he said. Fayyaz controlled for recreational smokers and took them out of the study.

His research showed a surprising result: “What I found was that nicotine containing e-cigarettes as a cessation aid were no more effective than their nicotine-free counterparts. This was very informative. If we can get those nicotine e-cigarettes off the market and have people use the nicotine-free e-cigarettes with the same result – and none of the potentially harmful effects – why not?”.

Research impact

Further research will be needed, Fayyaz recognises, but an international panel of experts has already looked into the collective research from the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit and the University of Toronto with a view to proposing updates to Ontario’s e-cigarette laws. “Currently, the e-cigarette laws in Ontario mirror the tobacco laws. We’re looking to see if we can come up with e-cigarette-specific laws based on solid, academic research,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fayyaz, a youth employment consultant and job developer for the non-profit organisation 360okids in Toronto, can already see the prevalence and impact of e-cigarette use among the young people he works with. “Although it’s still difficult to say at the present time whether e-cigarettes are harmful or not, it’s evident to see that e-cigarette use has gone up exponentially.”

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