E-cigarettes beneficial to public health by providing viable alternative to smoking, finds report

E-cigarette vaping

The use of electronic cigarettes - known as vaping - may play a beneficial role in public health by reducing deaths from Britain’s biggest avoidable killer, according to a report from the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The report authors examined evidence relating to the effect of e-cigarettes on smoking and nicotine use, and found sufficient evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are “95% safer” than smoking tobacco and could work to improve the health of millions of people by helping them cut down or quit – echoing similar findings published by Public Health England last year.

The report also found that smokers who use e-cigarettes or prescribed medication alongside GP support are more likely to quit smoking for good. Despite the findings, the majority of people who want to try e-cigarettes – not currently classed as a licensed medicine - to help them quit smoking will still currently need to buy them, as opposed to being prescribed them by their doctor.

Although smoking rates have generally been declining in the UK for decades, around 9 million - 1 in 5 - adults still smoke tobacco. E-cigarettes have been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years, and 2.6 million - 1 in 20 - adults now use them. Despite concerns that e-cigarettes could be encouraging young people to try tobacco, the majority of users were found to be ex-smokers or current smokers who are trying to cut down or quit normal cigarettes.

In a review of the report, published in the British Medical journal (BMJ), Professor John Britton and other experts write that e-cigarettes and other nicotine substitute products “offer the potential to radically reduce harm from smoking in our society. This is an opportunity that should be managed and taken.”

E-cigarettes on prescription?

Dr Tim Ballard, from the Royal College of GPs, says: "Moving forward we would be looking for clear evidence that making e-cigarettes available on prescription as part of a wider smoking cessation scheme is a wise use of both scant NHS funds and GP practice resources, before the College could get behind it.

"It is not just the cost of the product that needs taking into account, but the time and resources that are involved in assessing patients, and monitoring their progress over a prolonged period of time.

"We reiterate our calls for NICE to take a leading role in establishing whether making e-cigarettes available on prescription is the best way forward."

Seventy percent of smokers want to quit

Smoking cigarettes

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, says: “Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health. Smoking directly causes heart disease, respiratory disease, as well as many cancers; and despite 70% of smokers wanting to quit, there are still nearly nine million adults in the UK who smoke.

“There are 2.6 million e-cigarette users in the UK, and many smokers are using them to help quit. Although more research is needed to establish the long term safety of e-cigarettes, they are likely to cause significantly less harm to your health than smoking tobacco.”

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