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E-cigarettes could be available on NHS after medicines regulator changes guidance

Written by on 29 October 2021

E-cigarettes could be made available through the NHS after the medicines regulator updated guidance for people who want to stop smoking.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said e-cigarette manufacturers can now submit products to go through the same regulatory approvals process as other medicines.

This could mean that England becomes the first country in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes as a medical product but it requires approval from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

If the products receive approval, it will then be up to doctors to decide whether it would be appropriate to prescribe an e-cigarette to a patient who is looking to stop smoking.

Currently, cigarette alternatives are regulated as consumer products.

The updated guidance comes after a consultation with the E-Cigarette Expert Working Group, a group of UK experts who provided independent oversight and advice to the MHRA.

Non-smokers and children are continued to be strongly advised against using e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine and are not risk-free, but expert reviews from the UK and US have said the regulated e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking.

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Experiment shows vaping is less harmful than smoking

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

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

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said smokers who are cautious about e-cigarettes might be more likely to try vaping if they had the reassurance provided by a medicines licence.

“The MHRA guidance opens the door to a day when smokers can be prescribed e-cigarettes to improve their chances of successfully quitting,” she said.

Teenagers and young adults who vape are at greater risk of catching coronavirus Image: E-cigarettes would need to be approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence before doctors can prescribe them

Professor Nick Hopkinson, a consultant physician at the Royal Brompton and medical director at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “There is already good evidence that commercially available e-cigarettes enable people to switch away from smoking to a much safer alternative.

“However, the development of medicinally licensed e-cigarettes would be a really important step forward, providing patients and healthcare professionals with an additional tool to break dependence on smoking, backed up by the reassurance that comes from a rigorous authorisation process.”

Currently, doctors can prescribe Varenicline and Bupropion, which are tablets, to help people stop smoking, while the NHS also recommends patches, gum, and vapes that can be bought without a prescription.

In 2019, Professor Thomas Munzel from the University Medical Centre in Mainz, Germany said e-cigarettes are so dangerous and addictive countries should consider banning them.

Prof Munzel and his colleagues said there is only a “paucity of evidence” to support claims e-cigarettes are a “healthy” alternative to smoking or that they help people quit.

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Study links e-cigarettes to lung problems

And earlier this year, the World Health Organisation recommended governments bring in measures to prevent non-smokers from using vapes, calling for better regulation.

While e-cigarettes are legal in the UK for anyone over the legal smoking age, in several countries around the world it is illegal to sell vapes, including Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Japan and India.

In Qatar, North Korea and Singapore they are illegal to use and sell.

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