Smoking kills – and it costs the NHS an estimated £2 billion a year. But in a new report by the Parliamentary Science and Technology committee, MPs say that the NHS is turning a blind eye to the options for using vaping as a viable smoking cessation tool.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are currently 2.9 million people who regularly enjoy vaping in the UK. Of those, around 470,000 are actively using vaping as a way to quit smoking. MPs concluded that vaping is far less harmful than smoking and should be available on prescription as part of a successful quit attempt.
According to evidence given by Public Health England (PHE), there is no evidence that vaping is a gateway to smoking among young people. In fact, their independent expert review found that the current best estimate is that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and is linked to successful quit rates for ex-smokers using e-cigarettes as part of a package of support from quitting smoking services.
The PHE review acknowledges that free stop smoking resources remain the most successful way to encourage smokers to quit. However, the expert review also encouraged quitters to use e-cigarettes as a part of their plan in line with the evidence the review uncovered that use of e-cigarettes among adults and young people is almost exclusively confined to people who have already smoked. Fresh Smoke Free North East is the first UK stop smoking service to promote itself as actively vaping friendly and to welcome the use of e-cigarettes and similar devices as part of a successful quit attempt.
E-cigarettes are considered to be far less harmful than the conventional kind because they’re carbon monoxide and tar free. The report urged policy makers to recognise that e-cigarettes should therefore not be conflated with conventional cigarettes and to relax regulatory prohibitions on vaping in public places. Although e-cigarettes are not covered by current smoking legislation, they’re generally covered by the same prohibitions.
MPs would like to see vaping widely accepted in the workplace, on public transport and in other public areas. They argue that vaping should be seen as a more convenient and safer option to smoking in order to enforce historically low rates of smoking in the general population which currently stand at just 19% of men and 15% of women. A 6 month trial in a jail on the Isle of Man found that inmates were calmer, safer and had more success quitting smoking when allowed to vape freely in their cells and in outdoor spaces.
Action on Smoking and Health and Cancer Research UK both welcomed the report as a useful addition to the conversation around vaping and smoking cessation. Other health professionals praised the evidence based approach as an antidote to some of the scare stories surrounding vaping and urged the government and regulatory bodies to take heed of its recommendations.
As the UK heads towards its first smoke-free generation within the next 10 years, e-cigarettes will have a crucial role to play if the NHS acknowledges the report’s findings.