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MPs back e-cigarettes as a stop smoking tool

E-cigarettes, estimated to be 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes, are too often being overlooked as a stop smoking tool by the NHS, say MPs.

A new report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee calls for regulations to be relaxed relating to e-cigarettes’ licensing, prescribing and advertising of their health benefits.

The Report reviews the current evidence base on the harmfulness of e-cigarettes compared to conventional cigarettes and looks at the current policies on e-cigarettes, including in NHS mental health units and in prisons.  It concludes that e-cigarettes should not be treated in the same way as conventional cigarettes.

The Committee has found that e-cigarettes are not a significant ‘gateway’, including for young non-smokers, to conventional smoking and do not pose a significant risk through second-hand inhalation.

Around 2.9 million people in the UK are currently using e-cigarettes, and it has been estimated that about 470,000 people are using them as an aid to stop smoking—and tens of thousands are using them to successfully quit smoking each year.

The Committee is calling on the Government to consider risk-based regulation to allow more freedom to advertise e-cigarettes as the relatively less harmful option, and provide financial incentives, in the form of lower levels of taxation, for smokers to swap from cigarettes to less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes. Further, it is calling for a reconsideration of: their use in public places; limits on refill strengths and tank sizes; and the approval systems for stop smoking therapies such as e-cigarettes.

Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same. There is no public health rationale for doing so“.

Based on the current evidence PCRS-UK supports e-cigarettes as a positive option available to support people to quit tobacco smoking.

A recent study, published in Thorax, found that the vaping process can damage immune system cells under laboratory conditions.

But PCRS-UK Chair Noel Baxter, says the overall consensus remains that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco: “The Royal College of Physicians, Public Health England and PCRS-UK continue to support vaping as a safer option to tobacco smoking where the patient asks about the best of these two options as it will substantially reduce the risk of early death“.

“Unfortunately the belief that vaping is more dangerous than tobacco smoking still persists amongst many smokers which prevents them from opting for what is currently evidenced to be the safest option.”

The PCRS-UK position on e-cigarettes is set out in this resource which sets out the tools and treatments that clinicians can use to support their patients to quit.

PCRS Produced / Collaboration
Clinical Area: 
Tobacco smoking and nicotine
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