NHS could prescribe e-cigarettes to help smokers quit

The Department of Health and Social Care have announced that ‘E-cigarettes could be prescribed on the NHS in world first’. This move, which has been praised by many health care experts, could make it easier for thousands of smokers to make the switch from smoking to vaping.

England could become the first country to prescribe e-cigarettes
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the UK. In 2019 alone, 64,000 people in England died from smoking-related illness, but there are still currently nearly 7 million smokers in England.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH explains;

“As the CMO Chris Whitty has pointed out, smoking is likely to have caused more premature deaths in the UK last year than the covid pandemic. Thanks to vaccines, COVID-19 is being brought under control, but smoking will kill as many people this year as last. With nearly 7 million smokers in the UK smoking will continue to kill people for many years to come until we make smoking obsolete.”

With a goal to be smokefree by 2030, the Government is now considering the best ways to support smokers in making a quit attempt, and the answer is e-cigarettes.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now published their updated guidance that will pave the way for medicinally licensed e-cigarettes to be offered on prescription for smokers looking to make a stop smoking attempt.

Commenting on the decision, John Dunne, Director General of UKVIA, said;

“The government deserves huge praise for taking this bold decision to look more closely at the use of vaping when it comes to smoking cessation and for taking an evidence-based, science-led approach rather than the nonsensical anti-vaping, anti-harm reduction stance of some countries.”

If decisions go ahead this would make England the first country in the world to offer e-cigarettes as a medically licensed stop smoking aid, a landmark decision that could further iterate our position as a leading authority on the use of e-cigarettes for smoking prevention.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has welcomed this latest decision, stating;

“This country continues to be a global leader on healthcare, whether it’s our COVID-19 vaccine roll-out saving lives or our innovative public health measures reducing people’s risk of serious illness. Opening the door to a licensed e-cigarette prescribed on the NHS has the potential to tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background.”

E-cigarettes could reduce burden to NHS
The move to allow e-cigarettes to be prescribed on the NHS could help reduce the burden on the health service long-term, by reducing the need for emergency treatment for smokers. If more smokers can make the switch to vaping, this could prevent them from contracting future illness that may have resulted if they had continued to smoke.

National health equalities campaigner Dr Zahid Chauhan OBE, a GP and health and social care cabinet member for Oldham Council, explains;

“I hope decision makers see that spending on smoking cessation in the long-term beats paying for the emergency treatment required to help treat patients with problems such as lung cancer, COPD and emphysema.”

“Up to 68% of users successfully quit”
Over the last couple of years more and more health care authorities have come out in support of e-cigarettes, in consideration of growing evidence of their effectiveness as a stop smoking aid and harm reduction tool.

John Dunne of UKVIA explains;

“Evidence and arguments for using vaping as a way of helping smokers to quit is nothing short of overwhelming"

According to Government statistics there are currently around 2.7 million vapers in the UK. E-cigarettes have become the most popular aid used by smokers trying to quit in England, with 27.2% of smokers using them compared with 18.2% using nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gum. Vaping has been responsible for high success rates when combined with behavioural support, with up to 68% of users successfully quitting in 2020 to 2021 according to the Government’s data.

Dr Paul Aveyard, GP and Professor of Behavioural Medicine at Oxford, offered his opinion as a medical practitioner;

“The evidence is there that e-cigarettes are helping more smokers quit successfully than traditional nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum. However, until there is a licensed e-cigarette on the market doctors can’t recommend them as a smoking cessation tool or prescribe them to their patients. Having a prescribable e-cigarette will enable doctors to encourage their patients to use them and increase smokers’ chances of successfully quitting.”

Conservative peer Earl Cathcart weighed in with his own experiences as an e-cigarette user;

“I used to smoke over 50 cigarettes a day but since 2014 I transferred to using e-cigarettes and I haven’t had a puff of tobacco since. And I’ve found my health and breathing so much better now so surely this is a very good thing, it should be encouraged.”

Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the MHRA, has said that the evidence was “clear” that e-cigarettes are a less harmful alternative to smoking that can help people quit smoking for good. Public Health England have long reported that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking, and research has found that making the switch from smoking to vaping can help improve health, such as restoring the lungs defence against infection.

Professor Alan Boobis, OBE, Chair of the Committee on Toxicity, states;

“Using an e-cigarette that meets current consumer standards will be a lot less harmful than smoking cigarettes.”

Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth explains how making e-cigarettes available on prescription could help reassure smokers of their effectiveness and safety relative to continuing to smoke;

"Smoking kills and stamping it out is key to helping people live longer, healthier lives and avoiding deadly diseases… Consumer e-cigarettes bought over the counter are proven to be the most successful quitting aid, but nearly a third of smokers have never tried them, and a similar proportion believe, wrongly, that e-cigarettes are as, or more harmful, than smoking. These are the smokers who are more likely to try vaping if they had the reassurance provided by a medicines licence and products which are available on prescription.”

Commenting on the announcement, Chief Executive Officer of Evapo, Andrej Kuttruf stated;

“It is fantastic to see so many public health experts speak up in support of vaping, and the possibility of e-cigarettes being available as a medically licensed smoking cessation tool. As a part of the vaping industry, I see first-hand how e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, and make a really positive change to their life. Making e-cigarettes available on prescription could go a long way towards reassuring smokers who have misplaced concerns, and could lead to hundreds of thousands of successful quit attempts.”

At a glance
·The Department of Health and Social Care have announced that E-cigarettes could be prescribed on the NHS

·Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has welcomed the latest step forward in harm reduction

·E-cigarettes were the most popular aid used by smokers trying to quit in England in 2020

·“E-cigarettes are helping more smokers quit successfully than traditional nicotine replacement therapies.” (Dr Paul Aveyard, GP and Professor of Behavioural Medicine at Oxford)