E-cigarettes could be prescribed on the NHS as study finds they 'help smokers quit'

E-cigarettes were more effective than nicotine gum and patches, but some experts warn they will 'renormalise' smoking, especially among the young

E-cigarettes are considerably more effective than over-the-counter treatments such as nicotine gum and patches at helping people to quit smoking, a new study has revealed.

One leading expert said it would be “perfectly reasonable” for the devices, which will soon be licensed as medicines, to be prescribed on the NHS.

Despite concerns that the recent rise in popularity of ‘e-cigs’ may be “re-normalising” smoking, Professor Robert West of University College London said that they had proven to be highly efficient quit-smoking aids, which could “substantially improve public health”.

Around a quarter of the four million people in England that attempted to quit smoking in the past year used e-cigarettes to help them.

The new study, published today by UCL researchers, looked at the success rate of nearly 6,000 quitters. Those who used e-cigarettes were 60 per cent more likely to report succeeding than either those who tried to quit with over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies, or those who quit without help. E-cigarettes were found to be as effective as prescription medicines, but the group of smokers with the highest quitting success rate were those who used free NHS stop smoking services.

There has been a huge rise increase in the use of e-cigarettes in the past two to three years, with some estimates putting the number of UK users at more than two million.

The reaction to the rapid rise among governments and public health experts has been mixed. Some have heralded the devices, which contain nicotine but are far less harmful than an ordinary cigarette, as a powerful tool to drive down the number of smokers, and regulators are planning to licence them as medicines by 2016.

However, others have warned that they risk “renormalizing” smoking and encouraging young people to take up smoking. The Welsh Government is even considering a ban on the devices in public places – a position that is challenged by this latest research.


Professor West, director of tobacco studies at UCL and the study’s senior author said that once e-cigarettes had been approved the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), it would be “perfectly reasonable” for them to be prescribed on the NHS.

However, despite their benefits, there are concerns that the tobacco industry could still benefit from the rise of e-cigarettes. So far two companies are understood to have applied for a medicines licence for their e-cigarette products, one of them a subsidiary of British American Tobacco.

If they are successful in their MHRA application, and the products are approved for NHS prescription, it could, in theory, lead to NHS funds being paid to a tobacco manufacturer.

However, Professor West said that, overall, e-cigarettes were “not good news for the tobacco industry”.

“The tobacco industry would love them to go away…” he said. “They sell tobacco and do very well out of it and they would like to carry on doing that,” he said. “However, [they] recognise that e-cigarettes are a major factor and the question is: what are they going to do about it?”

“It’s such a complicated area…the tobacco industry has money coming out of their ears. For them it is petty cash to put in an MHRA application…for a small e-cigarette company that is innovating, the cost and the timescale involved is prohibitive. The challenge for the MHRA, and I know they’re looking at this, is to bring the cost and timescale for getting a medical licence down to a point where the medium-sized companies doing the innovating can take part.”

Professor West added that the proposed Welsh ban on ‘vaping’ in public places on the basis that it might be ‘re-normalising’ smoking among young people was “not borne out by the evidence”.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said that officials were “looking at the options” and that the proposals recognised the potential public health benefits of e-cigarettes.

Martin Dockrell, head of Public Health England’s (PHE) tobacco control programme said that e-cigarettes represented a public health “opportunity” but said they were not completely free of risk.

“PHE believe e-cigarettes need to be regulated to ensure they deliver nicotine effectively, minimise the potential for harm, and are marketed only to adults as a replacement for smoking,” he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

    £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world