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It’s a big question for smokers and policymakers alike: Do electronic cigarettes help people quit?

In a large study of company wellness programs, e-cigarettes worked no better than traditional stop-smoking tools, and the only thing that really helped was paying folks to kick the habit.

Critics of the study say it doesn’t close the case on these popular vaping products. It didn’t rigorously test effectiveness, just compared e-cigarettes to other methods among 6,000 smokers who were offered help to quit. That’s still valuable information because it’s what happens in daily life.

Providing e-cigarettes “did not improve the number of people who quit compared to essentially doing nothing,” said Dr. Scott Halpern of the University of Pennsylvania. “The very best way to help them quit is to offer them money.”

He led the study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine. It was sponsored by the Vitality Group, which runs company wellness programs. The makers of NJOY e-cigarettes provided them but had no role in the research.

The new study differed from usual studies of smokers wanting to quit: It automatically enrolled smokers in 54 company wellness programs and asked those who didn’t want to join to opt out.

They were put into five groups: usual care, which was information on benefits of quitting and motivational text messages; free quit-smoking aids such as nicotine patches and medicines like Chantix or Zyban plus e-cigarettes if those failed; free e-cigarettes without any requirement to try other methods first; free quit-smoking aids and a $600 reward if people were abstinent six months later; and free cessation tools plus $600 placed in an account at the start of the study that they’d lose if they didn’t quit.

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