GP prescribing of e-cigarettes could see more patients successfully give up conventional cigarettes, according to MPs.
The finding comes as part of a Government report which said that smokers should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes if giving up is not possible, and called on the process of medically licencing such a product to be ‘streamlined’.
The House of Commons science and technology committee announced it would be investigating the safety of e-cigarettes last year, and would consider whether they could ‘re-normalise’ smoking for young smokers.
The final report, released on Friday, found that e-cigarettes ‘are substantially less harmful—by around 95%—than conventional cigarettes’, as they lack the tar and carbon monoxide of normal cigarettes.
It also said that the risks from ‘second-hand’ e-cigarette vapour are ‘negligible and substantially less than that of conventional cigarettes’, although it noted uncertainties about long-term health effects, because the products have not yet had a long history of use.
MPs concluded that existing smokers should be ‘encouraged to give up, but if that is not possible they should switch to e-cigarettes as a considerably less harmful alternative’.
The committee wrote: ‘A licensed product could also provide the basis for a doctor-patient relationship that could extend over the period needed to give up smoking, and help overcome some smokers’ reluctance to swap to e-cigarettes because of cost considerations.
‘Several studies show that smokers receiving specialised cessation assistance through their GP are more likely to stop successfully.’
The report recommended: ‘The Government should review with the e-cigarette industry how its systems for approving stop-smoking therapies could be streamlined to be able to respond appropriately should e-cigarette manufacturers put forward a product for licensing.’
The Government has said it will carry out an annual evidence review on e-cigarettes, as well as reporting on the research in its Tobacco Control Plan.
Earlier this year Public Health England found that e-cigarettes could be supporting at least 20,000 people quit smoking a year and concluded that there is ‘compelling evidence’ for e-cigarettes to be available to NHS patients.