As a health reporter, I hate covering flip-flopping studies like a March finding that electronic cigarettes don’t help smokers quit and a new British study finding that they do.

Here’s the simple explanation for the conflicting findings: The first study that found e-cigarettes were useless for quitting did not look specifically at those who were actually trying to stop smoking — while the more recent study finding did.

It surveyed 5,863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had made a serious attempt to quit over the past year using either e-cigarettes — which burn nicotine in a cartridge that’s inhaled as a vapor — or over-the-counter cessation aids like nicotine patches, gum or lozenges, or nothing at all to help them quit. The study found that e-cigarette users were 60 percent more likely to have been successful in their quitting efforts compared to those in the other two groups; the researchers took into account income level, nicotine dependence, and other differences between those who used e-cigarettes and those who didn’t.

“This was a real-world observational study to see how well e-cigarettes work when used specifically to help people stop smoking,” said study author Dr Jamie Brown, a senior research associate at University College in London. “The trade-off is we cannot definitively rule out that an unmeasured factor may have influenced the result.”

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