Public Health England: compelling evidence on e-cigarette prescriptions for NHS patients

Public Health England has said hospitals should sell e-cigarettes to patients and GPs could prescribe the devices, in the future

Hospitals should sell e-cigarettes to patients and switch smoking shelters to vaping lounges, Public Health England (PHE) has said

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Patients should be allowed to vape in private rooms and purchase e-cigarette devices in hospital shops, PHE said.

Meanwhile, government officials should help manufacturers licence e-cigarettes as medical quitting aids, it suggested. 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.

Quitting estimates

E-cigarettes could be contributing to 20,000 new quits each year, the review estimates.

But the number of people using the products has 'plateaued' and now stands at just under three million people in the UK.

The review was conducted by experts from King's College London and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, the University of Stirling and Cancer Research UK.

One reason behind the stall in uptake could be misconceptions about the levels of harm linked to the devices, the team found.

Researchers found that thousands of smokers 'incorrectly' believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking and two in five smokers had not even tried an e-cigarette.

5% less risk

In a linked editorial, published in The Lancet, experts from PHE said: 'Although not without risk, the overall risk of harm is estimated at less than 5% of that from smoking tobacco; the risk of cancer has been calculated to be less than 1%.'

Public Health England's recommendations

  • Calls for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to support manufacturers to license the products as medical quit aids so they can be made available on the NHS.
  • Encourage any smoker to switch to using e-cigarettes.
  • Calls for NHS trusts to be 'truly smoke free' and as part of this, ensuring e-cigarettes are for sale in hospital shops.

PHE tobacco control lead Martin Dockrell said: 'There are two parts to being a smoke-free hospital, one is not allowing smoking on the premises, the other is helping every smoker to quit.

'Some hospitals will decide, especially with their longer-term patients or patients who don't have a choice whether they are there or not, where it will be appropriate to have spaces indoors to have spaces where vaping is permitted.'

Mr Dockrell said the strongest case was for psychiatric hospitals where patients have the highest prevalanece of smoking and smoking-related harm.

'Single occupancy rooms are quite common in mental health trusts so that makes it easy for people to vape in a single occupancy room without any annoyance to anybody else,' he said.

Mr Dockrell said it was up to each hospital to make their own policy, but PHE would 'certainly encourage them to make at least some single occupancy rooms where people can vape. Of course smoking is prohibited everywhere'.

He said there was no reason why a hospital should not designate some indoor area where patients and visitors can vape.

Further information

Read PHE's review of evidence on e-cigarettes

Read the Lancet editorial on e-cigarettes

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