GPs should prescribe e-cigarettes to cut smoking-related deaths, say MPs

E-cigarettes should be prescribed by GPs to reduce smoking-related deaths, a parliamentary report has suggested.

E-cigarettes: call for prescribing by GPs (Photo: iStock)
E-cigarettes: call for prescribing by GPs (Photo: iStock)

E-cigarettes are estimated to be 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes, which cause around 79,000 deaths each year, according to a report by the House of Commons science and technology committee.

But MPs say e-cigarettes are being 'overlooked' by the NHS as a potential stop-smoking tool.

The report says: ‘A medically licensed e-cigarette could assist smoking cessation efforts by making it easier for medical professionals to discuss and recommend them as a stop-smoking treatment with patients.

Smoking cessation

‘The government should review with the e-cigarette industry how its systems for approving stop smoking therapies could be streamlined to be able to respond appropriately should e-cigarette manufacturers put forward a product for licensing.’

The committee says that currently around 2.9m people in the UK use e-cigarettes, and it has been estimated that about 470,000 people are using them as an aid to stop smoking - a technique that has proved successful for tens of thousands of ex-smokers.

The report also states that around 40% of adults with mental illness smoke, compared with 16% of the general population. The use of e-cigarettes in mental health facilities could prove beneficial to patients, the report argues.

Risks surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, including fears they act as a ‘gateway’ to conventional cigarettes and concerns surrounding second-hand inhalation, were ‘not significant’.

Public health

Science and technology committee chair, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb said: ‘Smoking remains a national health crisis and the government should be considering innovative ways of reducing the smoking rate. 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.’

He added: ‘Medically licensed e-cigarettes would make it easier for doctors to discuss and recommend them as a stop smoking tool to aid those quitting smoking. The approval systems for prescribing these products must be urgently reviewed.’

This comes just a few weeks after it was revealed that cuts to public health funding have led to a dramatic fall in prescriptions for stop smoking products, leaving many GPs unable to provide patients with support.

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: ‘Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, responsible for nearly 79,000 deaths a year, so any initiatives to help the one in five people smoking should be encouraged.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us: