New research has linked electronic cigarette use and successful attempts to quit smoking, going against the findings of several other studies.

Existing studies have created concerns that nicotine vapour inhalers undermine motivation and attempts to quit.

But reports published by The BMJ now say growth in the use of e-cigarettes in England has been associated with a higher rate of successful attempts to quit smoking.

In 2015, use of e-cigarettes may have resulted in an additional 18,000 long-term ex-smokers in England, the study estimates.

The authors say that “although these numbers are relatively small, they are clinically significant because of the huge health gains from stopping smoking.”

The results “conflict with the hypothesis that an increase in population use of e-cigarettes undermines quitting in general”, they said.

In a linked editorial, John Britton from the University of Nottingham, says the results suggest that “successful quitting through substitution with electronic cigarettes is a likely contributor to the falling prevalence of smoking.”

A number of potential factors—both those measured and unaccounted for —may have influenced the results, and “it therefore remains unclear whether, or by how much, the availability of e-cigarettes has influenced quitting behaviour in the UK,” he explains.

Nevertheless, he notes that the significant year-on-year fall in smoking “indicates that something in UK tobacco control policy is working, and successful quitting through substitution with e-cigarettes is one likely major contributor.

“The challenge for public health is to embrace the potential of this new technology, and put it to full use.”