England could become the first country in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes as a way to help patients quit smoking.
New updates to medical guidance have paved the way for e-cigarette manufacturers to apply to have their products medically approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
While e-cigarettes and vapes have yet to be approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the government body responsible for publishing medical guidance, if they were to become regulated medical products doctors would be able to choose whether to provide them to patients looking to quit smoking, adding them to a raft of products including nicotine patches, tablets and gum that can be recommended to smokers.
Despite containing nicotine and carrying their own health risks, experts have said e-cigarettes and vapes are on the whole less harmful than cigarettes, and have grown in popularity especially among young people in recent years.
‘There is already good evidence that commercially available e-cigarettes enable people to switch away from smoking to a much safer alternative,’ said Professor Nick Hopkinson, medical director for Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation. ‘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.’
Department of Health statistics show there are around 6.1 million smokers in the UK, with 64,000 people dying of smoking-related conditions in the country in 2019, Sky News reports.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said licensing medical e-cigarettes ‘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’.
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