E-cigarettes are being 'overlooked' by the NHS as a potential stop-smoking tool despite being 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes, according to a report by the House of Commons science and technology committee.
The committee says that currently around 2.9m people in the UK use e-cigarettes, and it has been estimated that about 470,000 people are using them as an aid to stop smoking - a technique that has proved successful for tens of thousands of ex-smokers.
The committee found, however, that three quarters of NHS trusts are mistakenly concerned about the dangers of ‘second-hand’ e-cigarette vapour, and a third of mental health trusts still ban e-cigarettes.
The report calls on the MHRA to look at upgrading its process for the licensing of e-cigarettes as medicines, saying ‘A medically licensed e-cigarette could assist smoking cessation efforts by making it easier for medical professionals to discuss and recommend them as a stop-smoking treatment with patients.'
The use of e-cigarettes in mental health facilities could prove particularly beneficial to patients, the report argues, given that around 40% of adults with mental illness smoke, compared with 16% of the general population. The committee has called for all NHS mental health facilities to permit the use of e-cigarettes by default, unless evidence-based reasons for not doing so can be provided.
The report found that risks surrounding the use of e-cigarettes, including fears they act as a ‘gateway’ to conventional cigarettes and concerns surrounding second-hand inhalation, are 'negligible'.
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: 'It is now well established in the public health community that the risks posed by e-cigarette use are substantially lower than from smoked tobacco, and it is encouraging that this has been reaffirmed by the Select Committee. We are particularly pleased with calls that would speed up the licensing of e-cigarettes as medicines – potentially opening the door to thousands more smokers who would otherwise not consider vaping as a means of quitting.'