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Five reasons why nurses should encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes

More than three million people across use the UK have switched to e-cigarettes, yet many smokers are put off trying them because they believe vaping is as harmful as smoking tobacco 

More than three million people across use the UK have switched to e-cigarettes, yet many smokers are put off trying them because they believe vaping is as harmful as smoking tobacco 


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Nurses observe the harm that smoking causes to health and know that preventing people starting smoking and helping smokers to quit is one of the most important things we can do to help more people live longer and healthier lives.

‘Nurses play a vital role in identifying smokers, giving them brief advice on quitting and signposting further support’

Evidence shows that prompts from healthcare professionals are one of the most common reasons a person attempts to quit smoking (ASH 2016). Nurses play a vital role in identifying smokers, giving them brief advice on quitting and signposting further support.

Around half of smokers trying to quit do so using willpower alone – but this is by far the least effective method.

Misconceptions 

Using a quit aid and getting support can greatly increase a person’s chances of quitting successfully (Public Health England (PHE) 2018). Switching to an e-cigarette is one of the most effective ways to quit tobacco, but there are still plenty of misconceptions about the relative risks of e-cigarettes (ASH 2018) among healthcare professionals and the public alike.

Around 3.2 million people across the UK use e-cigarettes and they have helped thousands of people successfully quit. But research shows that many smokers still think vaping is as harmful as smoking (ASH 2018) or do not understand the much lower risk of vaping, which could put them off trying an e-cigarette.

Five conversational points 

So when we talk to our patients and the public about e-cigarettes, there are five important things to advise those conversations:

  1. E-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than tobacco (PHE 2018) There is now a strong consensus that vaping – while not risk free – is far less harmful than smoking. E-cigarettes provide nicotine without the toxins and tar found in cigarette smoke. Using e-cigarettes as a quitting aid has wide ranging clinical and academic support (Cancer Research UK 2018) in the UK and internationally. Nicotine is the reason people become addicted to smoking, but it carries minimal risk of harm to health. 
  2. E-cigarettes are better for those around you Using an e-cigarette reduces harm to those using them and to those around them – and there is no evidence to suggest that passive vaping causes harm to health. However, people with asthma and other respiratory conditions can be sensitive to a range of environmental irritants, which could include e-cigarette vapour.
  3. E-cigarettes increase your chances of quitting successfully There is growing evidence that e-cigarettes are helping many thousands of smokers in England to quit (House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee 2018). Evidence also suggests that their effectiveness is broadly similar to or better than stop smoking medicines, such as Nicotine Replacement Therapy, if these are used without any professional support.
  4. E-cigarettes are most effective when combined with other support E-cigarettes are particularly effective when combined with expert help from a local stop smoking service. In 2017-2018, around two-thirds of smokers who used an e-cigarette (NHS Digital 2018) and got this support stopped smoking successfully. Signposting e-cigarette friendly services available locally will help boost people’s chances of quitting for good.
  5. Many smokers are surprised by how easy it is to switch to vaping Quitting smoking for good can be tough and many smokers have to make repeated attempts. It is encouraging that many smokers are surprised at how easy it is to quit using an e-cigarette. A major factor for smokers in giving up is getting enough nicotine to minimise withdrawal symptoms and keep relapse at bay.

Remember that it is much better to carry on vaping than to start smoking again.


References


About the author


Picture: Neil O’Connor

Viv Bennett is chief nurse, Public Health England

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