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GPs should prescribe e-cigarettes to provide 'assurance to consumers', says Government body

E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to users than conventional cigarettes, and could eventually be prescribed under license by the NHS, according to the latest evidence report from Public Health England.

The ‘E-cigarettes: a new foundation for evidence-based policy and practice’ report, released today, explains that e-cigarettes use ‘represents only a fraction of the risk of smoking’, the first time this has been acknowledged by the Government.

PHE points out that there is still a risk presented by e-cigarette use, particularly as current products are unlicensed, vary considerably in quality and specification and have little data on their long–term safety.

But PHE says that overall they are recognised as being an effective intervention when combined with smoking cessation services, adding: ‘E-cigarettes release negligible levels of nicotine into ambient air with no identified health risks to bystanders.’

For future work PHE will take steps to provide clear and accurate information on the relative risks of nicotine products, the report states: ‘Nearly half the population don’t realise e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, and studies have shown that some smokers have avoided switching in the belief that e-cigarettes are too dangerous.’

The report adds: ‘Given the potential benefits as quitting aids, PHE looks forward to the arrival on the market of a choice of medicinally regulated products that can be made available to smokers by the NHS on prescription. This will provide assurance on the safety, quality and effectiveness to consumers who want to use these products as quitting aids.’

Recent meta-analyses of available evidence have suggested that e-cigarettes may not be any more successful than nicotine patches in helping quit smoking long-term.

Dr Ram Moorthy, BMA Board of Science deputy chair, said it was ‘encouraging’ that Public Health England has conducted this review, but that new regulation was needed to ensure patient safety.

He said: ‘We need to see a stronger regulatory framework that realises any public health benefit they may have, but addresses significant concerns from medical professionals around the inconsistent quality of e-cigarettes, the way they are marketed, and whether they are completely safe and efficient as a way to reduce tobacco harm.’

Readers' comments (15)

  • I've never smoked, but all the discussion of E-cigs and lovely photos really makes me fancy trying......... on tax payer funded prescription obviously.

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  • I can see where this is going. Get people hooked on prescription e-cigs and watch them switch to Woodbines when they realise how much of a twit they look sucking on an e-cig. Someone in government is rewarded with an executive position at a tobacco company. Class action against the NHS by a group of lung cancer sufferers two or three decades hence.

    I'm sure that stout, volume for volume, is at least 95% less dangerous than home-distilled spirit or the rum that people sneak in from the West Indies. I therefore expect to be able to get a pint of Guinness on prescription in the near future.

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  • On second thoughts, I have yet to see a e-cig smoker quit the e-cig although I have seen smokers quit cigarettes/tobacco on present therapies available on NHS
    The NHS budget, or what is left of it, is going to be in a far greater mess than the 'think tanks' realize.

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  • As independent prescribers, We do not and should not prescribe this despite it being available on the NHS. just say no. Who ever wants to prescribe can prescribe poison.

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  • The NHS should allow free toothpaste, free soap, free shampoo and free toilet paper. How about free clothes, free food, free ovens or just freedom from this total dross.

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