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E-cigarettes are about as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit, a new study suggests. People who use e-cigarettes smoke fewer cigarettes, even if they don’t completely stop smoking, according to NBC News.

Researchers in New Zealand studied 657 smokers who wanted to quit. The smokers received a 13-week supply of either e-cigarettes, nicotine patches or placebo e-cigarettes that had no nicotine. After six months, almost 6 percent of participants had stopped smoking. Slightly more smokers in the e-cigarette group quit, compared with the other groups, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Among participants given real e-cigarettes, 57 percent were smoking half as many cigarettes daily as they had before the study started, compared with 41 percent of those who received nicotine patches.

The article notes this is the first major study to demonstrate that e-cigarettes can benefit smokers. The study appears in the journal The Lancet.

“Our study establishes a critical benchmark for e-cigarette performance compared to nicotine patches and placebo e-cigarettes, but there is still so much that is unknown about the effectiveness and long-term effects of e-cigarettes,” lead researcher Chris Bullen said in a news release. “Given the increasing popularity of these devices in many countries, and the accompanying regulatory uncertainty and inconsistency, larger, longer-term trials are urgently needed to establish whether these devices might be able to fulfill their potential as effective and popular smoking cessation aids.”

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found use of e-cigarettes among middle and high schools students doubled from 2011 to 2012. The study found 10 percent of high school students had tried an e-cigarette last year, compared with 5 percent the previous year.

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