Smoke two and call me in the morning? Smoking to quit

smokeDoctors should fight fire with fire and prescribe e-cigarettes to help patients quit smoking. A British report for Public Health England found that so-called ‘vaping’ is not 95% less dangerous than actual tobacco, but it could actually save lives. “At the moment, 80,000 people [in England] die every year as a result of cigarette smoking,” report author professor Ann McNeill from King's College London said. “If everybody who was smoking switched to e-cigarettes that would reduce to about 4,000 deaths a year. That's the best estimate at the moment. It may well be much, much lower than that.”

Currently, e-cigarettes cannot be prescribed as a smoking cessation method in England – or anywhere else for that matter – because they are not licensed for medical purposes. Moreover if approved, the cost – £20 or more for a vaping kit plus about £10-a-week in replacement fluid for a regular smoker–would add to the £49 million that the nearly 1.8 million prescription items to help patients stop smoking cost the National Health System during 2013-14 (including patches, gum and sprays). However, the biggest obstacle to getting e-cigs prescribed by the doctors is the prejudice that surrounds vaping. Like those people who cough in an overly exaggerated manner when you’re enjoying a well-deserved smoke, British Medical Association spokesman Dr Ram Moorthy said that “we need to see a stronger regulatory framework that realises any public health benefit they may have, but addresses significant concerns from medical professionals around the inconsistent quality of e-cigarettes, the way they are marketed, and whether they are completely safe and efficient as a way to reduce tobacco harm.”

Additionally, a Welsh government spokesman said that “we are concerned the use of e-cigarettes may renormalise smoking, especially for a generation who have grown up in a largely smoke-free society,” and cited the World Health Organization as an entity which has urged for tighter regulation of e-cigarettes – because as we all know, the WHO never gets it wrong (coughEbolacough).  But these spokesmen – of whom there are too many; we need more smokesmen like Nick Naylor – are being more popish than the pope. The experts who compiled the report found no evidence that e-cigarettes were a gateway drug for children; instead, regular use is found “almost exclusively” among people who have already smoked, and that e-cigarettes have quickly become the most widely used smoking cessation aid in England. About 2.6 million adults use e-cigs in Britain alone. And that is despite the fact that about 44.8% of the population does not realize how much less harmful than tobacco e-cigarettes are. Imagine how popular they would be if people did realize that. As it turns out, the myths around e-cigarettes are what’s really harmful.

Director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England professor Kevin Fenton called attention to the importance of debunking these myths. “E-cigarettes are not completely risk-free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting.” Public Health England is “committed to ensure that smokers have a range of evidence-based, effective tools to help them to quit. We encourage smokers who want to use e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking to seek the support of local stop-smoking services, given the potential benefits as quitting aids. PHE looks forward to the arrival on the market of a choice of medicinally regulated products that can be made available to smokers by the NHS on prescription.”

Professor McNeil adds that “if I was running a stop-smoking service, I would encourage people who are interested in trying e-cigarettes to have a go. I would also be recommending all the other evidence-based medications that people can use.” Action on Smoking and Health chief executive Deborah Arnott agreed, saying “this timely statement from Public Health England should reassure health professionals, the media, and the public, particularly smokers, that the evidence is clear: electronic cigarettes are very much less harmful than smoking.”

Related Read:

- E Cigarettes: Helping Save Lives from the Clutches of Smoking