Only a week ago, health officials from The Royal Society for Public Health had urged for people to adopt a less negative attitude towards e-cigarettes as a way of embracing the battle against smoking and to reduce the number of deaths that is caused from smoking. Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable deaths in England.
Now, e-cigarettes are being backed by Public Health England (PHE), claiming more evidence in favour of nicotine non-tobacco containing products such as e-cigarettes should be prescribed on the NHS to help people quit smoking. Evidence from the first official review of the health impact has suggested that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking tobacco and if smokers were to switch to vaping with the help of NHS stop smoking services using electronic cigarettes, the current number of deaths which stands at around 76,000 associated with smoking could be drastically reduced.
North East England and Leicester have already piloted prescribed e-cigarettes to patients who have a desire to quit smoking. The NHS would prescribe e-cigarettes through council smoking cessation services. However, for the time begin, until a law is in place, GP’s will not be allowed to recommend e-cigarettes until they are regulated and licensed. Currently, GP’s have access to gum, nicotine patches and other nicotine replacement therapies.
Around 2.6million people are already using e-cigarettes, one in 20 of the adult population. The devices heat liquid nicotine until it vaporises, removing the harm caused by tobacco smoke, which contains tar and other cancer-causing chemicals. Subsequently, there are no known short-term health risks associated with vaping and though authors do not know the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, public health officials are more inclined to shift to e-cigarettes to alleviate the stress smoking causes to the NHS and to the lives of thousands of people every year. Though health officials would rather people stop smoking entirely, the transition to e-cigarettes will hasten the process.
If applications are approved, PHE experts say e-cigarettes should become available across the NHS as soon as possible. Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England has said: ‘Smoking remains England’s number one killer and the best thing a smoker can do is to quit completely, now and forever. E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm’.
He continues by adding ‘at the moment there are no licensed products that can be used for medicinal purposes and that’s one of the reasons why we are very supportive of the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) looking at the pathway for ensuring that there are safe and regulated e-cigarettes that can be promoted for medicinal purposes’.
Professor Ann McNeill of King’s College London, an independent author of the review added ‘e-cigarettes could be a game changer in public health. The evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking and in my view smokers should try vaping and vapers should stop smoking entirely’.
The anti-smoking campaign ASH (Action on Smoking Health) fully endorses the plans to introduce e-cigarettes to the NHS, calling on a change to smoking in this country.