Doctors should tell patients that using e-cigarettes poses less harm than smoking, the Government’s health watchdog has declared.
Nice released its new guidance in an attempt to dampen the spiralling confusion over the safety of the trendy gadgets.
But in the same paper, the body added that evidence on the long-term health impact of vaping is not yet fully understood.
The gadgets have been subject to huge controversy recently, due to worrying links between heart and lung damage and vaping.
E-cigarettes still do not feature on NICE’S approved list of stop-smoking aids, suggesting the watchdog is still waiting for more research on their health impact.
Following the guidance from NICE, campaigners have once again called for the gadgets to be licensed as medicines – which would allow them to be prescribed on the NHS.
Nice released its new guidance in an attempt to dampen the spiralling confusion over the safety of the trendy gadgets
Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at Action on Health and Smoking (Ash), welcomed the new guidance.
She said: ‘It is good news that Nice recommends that health professionals should reassure smokers that they are substantially less harmful than smoking.
‘Looking to the future, it is hoped some e-cigarettes will be licensed as medicines and could then be prescribed, providing doctors with another tool to help smokers who want to quit.’
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, yesterday argued that making e-cigarettes available on the NHS would reassure patients they are safe.
She told the Commons Science and Technology Committee an array of evidence proves the gadgets are safe – despite misconceptions.
Nice admitted that evidence on the long-term health impact of vaping – the term for using e-cigarettes – is not yet fully understood.
WHAT DOES THE GUIDANCE SAY?
For people who smoke and who are using, or are interested in using, a nicotine-containing e-cigarette on general sale to quit smoking, explain that:
- although these products are not licensed medicines, they are regulated by the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016
- many people have found them helpful to quit smoking cigarettes
- people using e-cigarettes should stop smoking tobacco completely, because any smoking is harmful
- the evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful to health than smoking but are not risk free
- the evidence in this area is still developing, including evidence on the long-term health impact
However, it said this should not discourage smokers from switching to e-cigarettes, which it considers are ‘likely’ to cause less damage.
The new guideline on helping smokers quit, developed with Public Health England, reinforces current best practice for health professionals.
It states patients using or interested in using e-cigarettes to stop smoking should be told they are not licensed medicines but that they have helped ‘many people’ quit.
Evidence suggests the devices are ‘substantially less harmful to health than smoking but are not risk-free’ and knowledge of the long-term impact is ‘still developing’.
Nice’s new move comes after it clashed with PHE officials last September about the use of e-cigarettes, which work using batteries.
The body told GPs not to recommend e-cigarettes because there is limited evidence over whether they are safe.
However, PHE on the same day launched a campaign urging smokers to switch to e-cigarettes in a series of 30-second TV adverts.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at Nice, today said: ‘Many people use e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking.
E-cigarettes still do not feature on its approved list of stop-smoking aids, which should be made available to adults who smoke
‘The committee considered it likely that they are substantially less harmful than smoking.
‘As a relatively new product, the long-term impact of their short-term use as well as the long-term health impact of their long-term use is still developing.
HOSPITALS SHOULD SELL E-CIGS
Hospitals should sell e-cigarettes to patients and switch smoking shelters to vaping lounges, health officials said last month.
Patients should be allowed to vape in private rooms and purchase e-cigarette devices in hospital shops, Public Health England (PHE) said.
Government officials should also help manufacturers licence e-cigarettes as medical quitting aids, it argued.
Such a move would allow GPs to prescribe the devices to their patients who are trying to stop smoking.
The calls come after PHE published its latest independent review into the evidence surrounding e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes could be contributing to 20,000 new quits each year, they estimated.
‘The committee was concerned that people who smoke should not be discouraged from switching to e-cigarettes because the evidence is still developing.
‘Our guidance, therefore, recommends that healthcare professionals help people make informed decisions on their use.’
Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, added: ‘Doctors and pharmacists should be very clear with people that there is a range of products available and that they can try vaping as a way to stop smoking.
‘Information on vaping should be easily accessible.’
It comes after Public Health England officials claimed last summer that the end of smoking is finally ‘in sight’ following a drop in figures.
Around 680,000 adults gave up the bad habit completely in 2016, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
Smoking, which is known to cause heart disease and lung cancer, is responsible for around 120,000 deaths across the UK each year.
Thousands of smokers are turning to e-cigarettes, with three million Britons now believed to use the battery-powered devices containing nicotine.
Although thought to be considerably safer than tobacco cigarettes, studies have linked long-term use to heart disease and cancer.