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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)

  • NO. people who buy cigarettes can buy e cigarettes. one step to far. what next, low alcohol drinks prescribed for alcaholics?

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  • Vinci Ho

    Like to see the break figures to support the definition of 'better' and 95%.

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  • I thought e-cigs were already cheaper than cigs? So it wouldn't make sense to make them free...

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  • ...so now it is ok for GP's give out free e-cigs so people can regularly inhale carcinogenic health damaging chemicals but soon they could get into trouble by giving potentially life saving antibiotics???

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  • Common sense tells you that if government is cracking down on gluten free products because people buy food so they can pay for gluten free food and scripts should be stopped, then why do they want to pay for e -cigs - smokers would have paid for cigarettes anyway.

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  • John Glasspool

    Well I am a non-smoker, but if they give you a bit of a high- hell, I'll go and ask for some. There is bound to be a nurse at the practice in charge of anti-smoking.

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  • Thankfully the Tories are cutting a large swathe off PHE funding - it can't come soon enough.

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  • I'm fat, can I have my 'less food' diet on prescription!

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  • Alex.you should have included the fact that the devolved Welsh Government is taking the exact opposite view!

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  • As probably one of the few doctors who actually had a shop selling e-cigs ... can't say I am desperately keen to be prescribing e-cigs. Too many different sorts, flavours, and changing all the time.
    However as a practice we did fund vouchers for patients to get a discount in my shop and another in town. It was helpful to get patients especially from the our more deprived areas to give them a try.
    Smuggled rolling tobacco is only about £4/week and cheap as they are the upfront cost is an issue for some, also the voucher was a positive endorsement.

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