Smokers will be given free e-cigarette starter kits by A&E departments as part of a trial designed to encourage people to quit.
Regardless of why they attend hospital, smokers will either receive a pack or be pointed in the direction of local stop-smoking services.
The 30-month trial, run by the University of East Anglia (UEA), will take place across five UK hospitals, two of which are in London.
It comes shortly after research released by Public Health England (PHE) showed that vaping is the most popular way for smokers to kick their habit.
While 27.2 per cent of those attempting to stop smoking in 2020 used e-cigarettes, 18.2 per cent opted for nicotine gum or patches instead, according to the study.
Caitlin Notley, a professor at UEA’s Norwich Medical School who is working on the upcoming NHS trial, said vaping “can be an attractive option” to wean people off smoking.
“We know that they are much less harmful than smoking tobacco, and that they have been shown to help smokers quit,” she said.
Unlike conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and do not produce carbon monoxide. However, they do potentially release low levels of harmful chemicals.
Dr Ian Pope, a doctor at UEA who is co-leading the trial, said roughly a quarter of the 24 million annual visitors to A&E are smokers.
“Attending the Emergency Department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery from whatever has brought them to hospital, and also prevent future illness,” he said.
The UEA team hopes the trial - funded by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) - will reach 1,000 smokers.
These patients will be asked three times in the six months after their initial hospital visit whether they are still smoking.
The habit is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the UK, with 75,000 people in England dying from smoking-related causes in 2019.
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, said “vaping is one of the most effective quit aids available”.
“Thousands more could have quit except for unfounded safety fears about e-cigarettes. The evidence has been clear for some time that, while not risk-free vaping is far less harmful than smoking,” he added.
Additional reporting by PA
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