Happy New Year? GPs braced for e-cigarette onslaught
The UK drug regulator’s decision to license an e-cigarette means the devices can now be prescribed alongside other nicotine-replacement therapies. Caroline Price reports
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GPs could face thousands of requests from patients for prescriptions for e-cigarettes after the Government announced one of the devices had been granted a licence by the UK drugs regulator.
The Department of Health confirmed the newly licenced e-cigarette could be ‘prescribed alongside existing nicotine replacement therapies’.
Public health chiefs said they welcomed the news, which they said would provide another ‘option for stop-smoking services, GPs and pharmacists to help smokers quit’.
But GP leaders warned it would place an extra, unnecessary burden on GPs and that stop-smoking services should pick up any new demand.
Public health minister Jane Ellison revealed the licence had been granted during questions in the House of Commons at the end of November.
Ms Ellison said: ‘The first e-cigarette was licenced by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency earlier this month.’
She quoted the findings of a recent report by Public Health England, which concluded the use of e-cigarettes and other so-called ‘vaping’ devices is ‘significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco products’ and that ‘evidence suggests that smokers can substantially benefit their health by fully substituting the use of e-cigarettes for smoking’.
The MHRA confirmed to Pulse that the ‘e-Voke’ device was the first ‘true’ e-cigarette to be licensed and that it would be available as a general sales medicine from pharmacies without a prescription, as well as on prescription through smoking-cessation services.
The regulator said in a statement: ‘The e-Voke is a product of acceptable quality and can be an effective aid to cessation.’
The DH said it ‘welcomed the arrival of licensed products that can be prescribed alongside existing nicotine replacement therapies’.
The director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton, said evidence indicated e-cigarettes ‘can help smokers to quit, particularly when combined with support from local stop-smoking services’.
He added: ‘In addition to other existing nicotine-replacement therapies, medicinally licensed e-cigarettes will provide another prescribing option for stop-smoking services, GPs and pharmacists to help smokers quit.’
However, Dr John Grenville, secretary of Derbyshire LMC, said busy GPs would be concerned about additional demand created by the decision.
Dr Grenville said: ‘Given the mood at the moment, GPs would probably resist prescribing it. I suspect there will be a demand and I think we will look very carefully at how to curb that demand.’
Expert view: GPs should say ‘no’
High-quality smoking-cessation services are essential for patients and, in the long run, should be cost effective.
There is, however, no reason for GPs in England to be inundated with requests for e-cigarettes, as smoking cessation is now part of public health, administered through local authorities, who ought to have arrangements for the provision of these medications.
GPs’ role should now be limited to encouraging smokers to attend these services. If they find themselves inundated by prescribing requests following these referrals, they should say no.
Dr Andrew Green is chair of the GPC’s prescribing subcommittee