Should E-Cigs Be Prescribed on the NHS to Smokers?
The UK's Royal College of Physicians has led the medical community in calling for a greater acceptance of electronic cigarettes and has repeatedly stated that not only is there resounding evidence that e-cigs are safer than traditional cigarettes, but that they also aid in the cessation of smoking.
In a 200-page report released in early 2016, it also disputes fears that ‘vaping’ leads to smoking, which is a myth that stands in the way of e-cigs being made more widely available. Despite calls from the country’s foremost health organisations, doctors are still unable to prescribe e-cigarettes until they are licensed as a ‘quit smoking aid’, which requires strict regulation that’s unlikely to be introduced anytime soon.
However, the Medicines and Healthcare Product Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recently approved an electronic cigarette brand, ‘e-Voke’, to be marketed as smoking cessation aid, which has led many observers to wonder whether we will soon see e-cigarettes become available to smokers on the NHS.
The Argument For – Let’s Do Something About Smoking
At present, about 10 million adults in the UK smoke cigarettes – that’s about one in every five adults. This number will put a severe strain on the NHS if something isn’t done to curb the numbers of adults who smoke, not to mention the children and teenagers who are also taking up the habit, so something needs to be done to address the issue. And fast.
Electronic cigarettes are a much safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and although the long-term effects of vaping are not yet known, it’s widely agreed that e-cigs are a much better choice whether the individual continues to vape long-term or uses the device as a means of quitting once and for all.
Furthermore, two-thirds of people who used e-cigs in combination with the NHS’s stop smoking service successfully quit, and Prof Kevin Fenton, the National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, recently said that e-cigs are now the country’s most popular smoking cessation product. He told the media, “Public Health England wants to see a choice of safe and effective replacements for smoking that smokers themselves want to use.”
The Argument Against – The Same Old Story
The argument against e-cigs being prescribed on the NHS to smokers is that same, tired old story that overlooks what we know about vaping and instead focuses on what we don’t yet know.
This argument was voiced by Dr Tim Ballard of the Royal College of GPs, who recently spoke about Public Health England’s approval for e-Voke to be marketed as a cessation aid, “Potentially, there may be a place for the prescription of e-Voke as part of a smoking cessation programme, but GPs would be very wary of prescribing them until there was clear evidence of their safety and of their efficacy in helping people to quit.”
Until health organisations and politicians start focusing on what we know instead of what we don’t know, we will never move forward and enable doctors to prescribe e-cigs on the NHS to smokers and address this alarming health issue that affects so many people here in the UK.