E-cigarettes: An unnecessary evil or a golden opportunity?

A new study is seeking to find out what GPs know about e-cigarettes and help to improve the advice health professionals can provide patients asking about e-cigarettes and smoking cessation, explain Dr Anya Göpfert and Dr Maria Van Hove.

In recent years, e-cigarettes have exploded onto the market. First appearing in 2004, vaping shops and cafes now line high streets across the UK. Approximately 2.8m adults in Great Britain now use e-cigarettes compared to 700,000 in 2012.1

E-cigarettes have caused much controversy and divided the public health and medical communities. Many are concerned about the potential harms of e-cigarettes and use of e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking, while others consider e-cigarettes a golden opportunity for smokers of tobacco products.

Public Health England describes e-cigarettes as offering ‘vast potential health benefits’.2 A recent Cochrane review demonstrated e-cigarettes to be effective smoking cessation aids, but commented on the low level of research available.3 It is currently impossible to say what long-term health effects e-cigarettes may have.

Nevertheless, e-cigarette use is prominent among those wanting to quit smoking, and some people choose to remain ‘vapers’ rather than stopping smoking completely.

Smoking cessation

GPs are at the frontline of smoking cessation and are often the first port of call for many wishing to quit. GPs therefore need to be up-to-date and informed on e-cigarettes in order to advise patients on the topic. It is unclear whether or not this is the case at present. No studies investigating the knowledge, attitudes and practice of doctors in the UK have yet been undertaken.

The University of Bristol is collecting data from GPs across the UK to identify what doctors know about e-cigarettes and add to understanding of advice given by healthcare professionals to their patients when asked about e-cigarettes and smoking cessation.

  • All GPs and GP trainees are encouraged to participate in the survey which can be found here and takes around 10 minutes to complete.

Data collected will be completely anonymous, and there will be no follow up contact after completing the survey. Results will be analysed to inform where further education and training of the workforce may be required to ensure high quality information and support for patients.

  • Dr. Anya Göpfert  is an academic foundation doctor and honorary research associate in social science and community medicine at the University of Bristol and Dr Maria Van Hove is from the Medical University of Vienna


  1. ASH 2016. Fact Sheet May 2016. Use of electronic cigarettes (vapourisers) among adults in Great Britain. http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_891.pdf
  2. Public Health England. Electronic Cigarettes, a report commissioned by Public Health England. 2014.
  3. Cochrane. Can electronic cigarettes help people stop smoking, and are they safe to use for this purpose? Hartmann-Boyce J, McRobbie H, Bullen C, Begh R, Stead LF, Hajek P.

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