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

Dunja Przulj, Francesca Pesola, Katie Myers Smith, Hayden McRobbie, Tim Coleman, Sarah Lewis, Christopher Griffith, Robert Walton, Rachel Whitemore, Miranda Clark, Michael Ussher, Lesley Sinclair, Emily Seager, Sue Cooper, Linda Bauld, Felix Naughton, Peter Sasieni, Isaac Manyonda, Peter Hajek

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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 prespecified 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-53
Number of pages53
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2023

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