Smokers could receive e-cigarettes for free on the NHS

E-cigarettes could be given free to smokers on the NHS as part of new plans to help people quit (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images))

England could become the first country in the world to offer prescription e-cigarettes to smokers to help them quit, after the UK drugs regulator updated its guidelines for quitting smoking.

The move was welcomed by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and the Director General of the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) who said “the evidence is clear” that they are less harmful.

The MHRA has updated its guidelines for people who want to quit smoking to allow e-cigarette manufacturers to submit their products for regulatory approval in the same way as other drugs available through the health service.

Dr June Raine, Executive Director of MHRA, said: “The evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are less harmful to health than smoking tobacco and that e-cigarettes containing nicotine can help people quit smoking. for real.

“The updated licensing requirements guidelines we released today are an important first step towards the availability of safe and effective licensed e-cigarette products. “

This would mean that electronic cigarettes approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) could be prescribed to patients as a treatment.

64,000 smoking-related deaths in 2019

Electronic cigarettes are currently regulated as consumer products, and although non-smokers and children are strongly discouraged from using them, they are found to be less harmful than smoking.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Opening the door to an NHS-prescribed licensed e-cigarette has the potential to tackle stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people quit to smoke wherever they live and whatever their origin. “

The change came following consultation with the E-Cigarette Expert Working Group, made up of UK experts who provided independent monitoring and advice to the MHRA.

Nearly 64,000 people died from smoking in England in 2019 while there are still around 6.1 million smokers in the country, according to figures given by the Department of Health.

Deborah Arnott, executive director of the health charity ASH, said smokers careful with e-cigarettes may be more likely to try vaping if they are reassured by a drug license.

“The MHRA guidelines open the door to a day when smokers can be prescribed electronic cigarettes to improve their chances of successfully quitting,” she said.

“Good proof”

Professor Nick Hopkinson, Consultant Physician at Royal Brompton and Medical Director of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Most of the people I see in the clinic have lung disease caused and made worse by smoking.

“There is already good evidence that commercially available electronic cigarettes allow people to switch from smoking to a much safer alternative.

“However, the development of medically licensed electronic cigarettes would be a really important step forward, offering patients and healthcare professionals an additional tool to break tobacco addiction, backed by the assurance that comes from a process of smoking. ‘strict authorization. “

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS can only prescribe e-cigarettes when Nice recommends them.”

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