Health Experts Say E-cigarettes Should be Available on the NHS
Health experts say that e-cigarettes should be prescribed on the NHS to help people stop smoking. In a report for Public Health England, they say that e-cigarettes could be the key to significantly reducing the number of smokers in the UK.
E-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular, but public health experts have so far offered conflicting views on their risks and benefits. However, the new review says that “vaping” is 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco, and that offering e-cigarettes on the NHS could be a “game-changer” in public health.
“At the moment, 80,000 people [in England] die every year as a result of cigarette smoking,” says Professor Ann McNeill of King’s College London, one of the report’s authors. “If everybody who was smoking switched to e-cigarettes that would reduce to about 4,000 deaths a year. That’s the best estimate at the moment. It may well be much, much lower than that.”
The report challenges some of the common misconceptions about e-cigarettes, including the view that using them is just as harmful as smoking – a view held by around 44% of the population. It also tackles the concern that e-cigarettes have a bad influence on children, arguing that there is no evidence that they act as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers. In fact, figures suggest that e-cigarettes are used almost exclusively by smokers as a quitting aid.
While GPs and stop-smoking services are currently unable to prescribe e-cigarettes because they are not licensed for medicinal purposes, the report authors hope that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will remove this hurdle. Final approval would then have to be given by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, says: “Smoking remains England’s number one killer and the best thing a smoker can do is to quit completely, now and forever. E-cigarettes are not completely risk-free but when they are compared to regular smoking, evidence shows that they carry just a fraction of the harm.”
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