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.’