A LEADING medical body has said that smokers should be offered and encouraged to use e-cigarettes to help them quit in the UK.
Evidence that e-cigarettes are ‘much safer’ than smoking and using aids to quit, according to the UK’s Royal College of Physicians.
A new 200-page report has suggested that ‘vaping’ could improve the lives of millions of people if the right checks and measures are made.
The report also suggests that reports that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking are unfounded.
At present, people who want to use electronic cigarettes still need to buy them rather than obtain them through the NHS.
Although there are schemes in Spain to help smokers quit, this is not a measure that is currently adopted in this country. Education and support packs are provided by local health centres in Spain.
UK doctors can only prescribe e-cigarettes if they have been licensed as a ‘quit smoking aid’, which is hard to do as it involves strict regulation.
Presently manufacturers are hesitant to go down this route and instead sell products which sell directly in shops as an alternative to smoking.
E-cigarettes are continually increasing in popularity since they first went on sale in 2007, and have been replacing nicotine patches and gum as the most popular choice to aid quitting smoking in the UK.
The new report by the Royal College of Physicians says that smokers who use e-cigarettes, with support from their doctor, are more likely to quit for good.
Although research has shown that e-cigarettes have some health hazards, some studies have shown that they are in general 95 per cent safer than normal cigarettes in the long term.
Professor Simon Capewell, of the Faculty of Public Health, is cautious and has said there are still many unknown factors.
“We don’t know enough yet about the long-term effects of vaping on people’s health, which is why we need more research.
“The best thing anyone can do if they want to quit smoking is talk to their GP: there’s solid evidence that NHS quit-smoking services help people kick the habit for good.”
On the other hand, Professor John Britton, who co-authored the RCP report, says e-cigarettes are extremely positive for public health and should be “encouraged and endorsed.”
He went on to say: “The public need to be reassured this is not a new nicotine epidemic in the making. E-cigarettes have very little downside and a lot of potential benefit.”
Dr Tim Ballard, of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Moving forward we would be looking for clear evidence that making e-cigarettes available on prescription as part of a wider smoking cessation scheme is a wise use of both scant NHS funds and GP practice resources, before the College could get behind it.
“It is not just the cost of the product that needs taking into account, but the time and resources that are involved in assessing patients, and monitoring their progress over a prolonged period of time.
“We reiterate our calls for NICE to take a leading role in establishing whether making e-cigarettes available on prescription is the best way forward.”