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Vaping in mental health units: nurse backs call for trusts to lift their bans

Medically licensed e-cigarettes ‘could be a stop-smoking tool for service users’

Medically licensed e-cigarettes ‘could be a stop-smoking tool for service users’

e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes should be permitted in mental health units, say MPs. Picture: iStock

A senior mental health nurse is backing a call to lift bans on e-cigarettes in mental health units.

The RCN's mental health forum chair was speaking after MPs urged mental health trusts in England to allow service users to vape on their premises.

A House of Commons science and technology committee report said it is unacceptable that one third of mental health trusts still ban vaping on their premises.

2.9 million

people in the UK use e-cigarettes

Source: Commons science and technology committee

The MPs stated NHS England should make it ‘default’ policy to permit e-cigarettes in mental health units unless individual trusts have evidence not to do so.

The report said while uncertainty remains about long-term health effects, e-cigarettes can accelerate a decline in smoking. The MPs said vaping is less harmful than standard cigarettes and the devices could be prescribed by nurses and doctors.

Committee chair Norman Lamb MP said: ‘If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS stop-smoking arsenal.

‘Medically licensed e-cigarettes would make it easier for doctors to discuss and recommend them as a stop-smoking tool.'

‘The argument is not about whether these devices are dangerous or safe – but if trusts are going to ban them, we need the evidence base to say why’

Ed Freshwater, chair, RCN mental health forum

RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater said allowing access to e-cigarettes would address ‘stubbornly high’ smoking levels among services users.

He said: 'Smoking is the single biggest contributor to reduced life-expectancy for people with mental health problems, with some dying up to 20 years early.

470,000

people in the UK use e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid

Source: House of Commons science and technology committee

'The argument is not about whether these devices are dangerous or safe – no one is saying "go smoke e-cigs, they're fine" – but if trusts are going to ban them, we need the evidence base to be able to say why.

'The research needed is decades away, so we have to go with what is available. That shows switching to e-cigarettes satisfies the niccotine addiction, but vastly reduces the amount of tar and carcinogens which go into the body.'

Mr Freshwater says he is not aware of concerns among nurses that their own health could be affected by breathing in vapour from patients' e-cigarettes.

He added: 'The science and technology committee says second-hand vapour is "most likely completely harmless".

How safe is safe?

However, the committee report came just days after scientists warned that a perception e-cigarettes are safe should be treated with caution.

Research led by the University of Birmingham found the vapour disables immune cells in the lungs and boosts inflammation, a similar effect to that seen in people who smoke standard cigarettes.

Public Health England estimates e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than standard cigarettes and give those wanting to quit smoking 'the best success rates' when used with local stop-smoking services.


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