Although e-cigarettes are not yet licenced by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, researchers at University College London said new evidence showed they were extremely effective at helping smokers to quit.
By Sarah Knapton
The NHS should consider prescribing electronic cigarettes after a major study found that those using the devices were 60 per cent more likely to quit than those using patches or gum.
Although e-cigarettes are yet to be licenced by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, researchers at University College London said new evidence showed they were extremely effective at helping smokers to quit. Study leader Professor Robert West, said: ''E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking.
“It would be perfectly reasonably for the NHS to consider e-cigarettes as an option. However, we should also recognise that the strongest evidence remains for use of the NHS stop-smoking services. These almost triple a smoker's odds of successfully quitting compared with going it alone or relying on over-the-counter products.''
The findings follow a survey of 5,863 smokers in England who had attempted to stop smoking without the aid of prescription medication or professional support. It found that those using e-cigarettes were 60 per cent more likely to successfully give up than people using over the counter nicotine replacement products, like gum or patches.
Prof West acknowledged that some quitters may want to keep using e-cigarettes indefinitely, and it was not clear whether or not this carried long-term health risks. But he added: ''From what is known about the contents of the vapour these will be much less than from smoking.
''Some public health experts have expressed concern that widespread use of e-cigarettes could 're-normalise' smoking.
“However, we are tracking this very closely and see no evidence of it. Smoking rates in England are declining, quitting rates are increasing and regular e-cigarette use among never smokers is negligible.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's head of tobacco policy, said: ''Smoking is the largest preventable cause of cancer and accounts for more than one in four cancer deaths in the UK - so helping smokers to stop is a vital contribution to the health of the UK.
''E-cigarettes may have a role in helping people to quit smoking but while the rapid rise in their popularity suggests a real opportunity, the evidence for their effectiveness is so far limited. Cancer Research UK is funding much-needed research into e-cigarette use to help inform policy development and individuals' choices, and research such as this is helping to paint a clearer picture.''