E-cigarettes will be given to smokers in A&E to help curb smoking rates
In August 2021, a trial will begin in 5 NHS hospitals across the UK where e-cigarettes and a week’s supply of e-liquid will be offered to selected smokers who are admitted to A&E. The trial, which is being conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia led by Professor Caitlin Notley, is designed to assess how effective e-cigarettes are at helping smokers to quit.
Only half of the selected smokers will receive the vape setup, with the other half receiving leaflets which point smokers towards local stop smoking services. Over a 30-month period, the smoking habits and success rates of each group will be tracked, monitored and compared.
The NHS first officially recognised e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid back in 2017 and since then, the organisation has published a whole host of online information, guides and support regarding e-cigarettes. This acknowledgement of e-cigarettes came just 18 months after Public Health England (PHE) made the milestone statement that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking. In the UK, it’s clear to see that e-cigarettes are being embraced by public health bodies, but there is still a large, and growing proportion of smokers who are not correctly informed about e-cigarettes.
Positive NHS initiatives could help to improve smokers’ perceptions of e-cigarettes
As well as the direct impact that this trial could have on the smokers involved, looking at the bigger picture, we hope this NHS involvement will also help to correct the misperceptions that surround vaping. A recent report about e-cigarettes from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in October 2020 explored smokers’ views on the relative safety of e-cigarettes.
The results were particularly concerning. They showed that a mere 39% of smokers could correctly identify that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking. Even more concerning is the fact that these perceptions are getting worse, as the previous year’s figure was 48%. These incorrect perceptions are undoubtedly down to sensationalist headlines and unfair negative press regarding vaping. With e-cigarettes now proving to be the UK’s most popular quitting aid, experts argue that more should be done by recognised public health organisations to help smokers become more informed, thus leading to more smokers trying an e-cigarette and potentially quitting their smoking habit.
Prof John Newton, Public Health England, said
“The best thing that a smoker can do is to stop smoking completely and the evidence shows that vaping is one of the most effective quit aids available, helping around 50,000 smokers quit a year,” he said.
“Thousands more could have quit except for unfounded safety fears about e-cigarettes.”
The fact that the NHS is both acknowledging and actively using e-cigarettes as a tool to help people quit will send a positive message to smokers, but only if that message is allowed to be heard.
Is another long-term trial necessary or could it be a lost opportunity?
Whilst the study is a huge step in the right direction, one could question whether a 30-month trial could potentially halter proceedings. There is already a plethora of strong evidence which has been backed up on numerous occasions showing that e-cigarettes are the most effective smoking cessation tool currently available. At the beginning of 2019, Professor Peter Hajek published the results of a study which concluded that e-cigarettes are almost twice as effective as traditional Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs).
The following year, in October 2020, a landmark Cochrane review by researchers at University College London (UCL) also explored the effectiveness of e-cigarettes and found similar results. The research examined 50 quality studies worldwide and concluded that e-cigarettes were, on average 70% more effective than NRTs. These research publications come from reputable sources and are quite consistent in their results. A little closer to home, the Salford Swap to Stop Pilot scheme, in which disadvantaged smokers were given a free vape setup, also showed impressive success rates way back in 2018.
With this firm evidence already currently available, how many more trials need to be run before more public health stakeholders commit to vaping as a safe and highly effective means to quitting?
That is not to say that we do not welcome further research into vaping; the more informed policy makers and smokers can be the better. However, should this 30-month trial period mean that many stakeholders wait for the end results before encouraging smokers to try vaping, tens of thousands of smokers may miss out on an important opportunity.
This study is a very positive move for vaping in the UK, and we look forward to seeing the initial findings over the coming months. With a worryingly high proportion of smokers still believing that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking, smokers being given a vape setup by the NHS should help others to think twice, and see past the more misleading of the media headlines.