Electronic cigarettes - battery-operated devices that provide nicotine via inhaled vapour - may help the memory as well as ease cravings as smokers quit their habit. These are the findings of research presented today (18 April) at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference, held at the Grand Connaught Rooms, London (18-20 April 2012).

Dr Lynne Dawkins of the University of East London conducted the research on 85 regular smokers (men and women). They were randomly given an e-cigarette with either nicotine or a placebo, or told to just hold the e-cigarette without using it. After five minutes of using the 'cigarette' as much as they wanted, participants completed a cravings and mood questionnaire. They repeated the questionnaire a further 20 minutes after using the e-cigarette. In addition, 60 of the participants completed a working memory task 10-15 minutes after using the e-cigarette.

The results showed that the e-cigarette with nicotine helped men more than women in terms of reducing their craving and improving their mood. The placebo e-cigarette was just as good as the nicotine e-cigarette for women. Those tested for working memory revealed that e-cigarettes with nicotine helped both men and women maintain working memory compared to those in the other groups.

Dr Dawkins said: "We were interested in exploring the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as relatively little research has been done. In terms of reducing cravings it is interesting to note the difference in effectiveness for men and women.

"Perhaps more significantly, we found that e-cigarettes with nicotine help maintain working memory in smokers who have not smoked for an hour or two. People who choose to stop smoking without using a nicotine substitute may therefore suffer a period during which their working memory levels dip until their bodies adjust to the reduced levels of nicotine. E-cigarettes seem to be effective at reducing this problem for men and women. However, in this study we did not look at the issue of whether people feel self-conscious about using the devices in public."

The Electronic Cigarette Company provided e-cigarettes for this research. It did not provide financial sponsorship or incentives for the research, other than a small grant to allow the researchers to travel to the conference to present these findings.