Evidence showing the positive effects of e-cigarettes makes a strong case for them to be available via prescription, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

In an independent review published today, PHE said that vaping has fewer risks when compared to traditional smoking and that the use of e-cigarettes is linked with an increased drop in smoking rates.

At least 20,000 smokers are quitting the habit thanks to the use of e-cigarettes, PHE has found.

'Legitimate place in smoking cessation'

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) welcomed the news.

A spokesperson said: 'It is now clear that, on the basis of current evidence, e-cigarettes have a legitimate place in smoking cessation, underpinned by professional advice.  It is useful to have a range of options in the stop smoking ‘toolkit’, because every person responds differently to treatment and the stop smoking journey is very personal.

'Unlike corner shops and specialist vape stores, pharmacies are regulated by healthcare agencies and staff are qualified to give advice on all aspects of smoking related health, as well as identify additional health care needs.

'Thousands of people each month successfully give up smoking with the help of local pharmacies.  Pharmacies are an accessible, non-stigmatising environment, where behavioural support can be given in combination with quit products like nicotine patches or gums.

'The PHE evidence review will help pharmacists provide up to date advice to people wishing to use e-cigarettes as part of their quit smoking journey.  It will also help pharmacies decide whether or not to stock e-cigarettes for sale.  Many more pharmacies will now feel confident to supply these products.'

Reducing the risk

PHE director for health improvement professor John Newton said: ‘Every minute, someone is admitted to hospital from smoking, with around 79,000 deaths a year in England alone.

‘Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders. Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don’t know.’

Challenging other findings

The news comes as other studies challenge the PHE position, showing that after vaping for a prolonged, 30-minute period the smokers had a similar increase in aortic stiffness as they had after smoking a tobacco cigarette for five minutes.

However, lead author of the PHE report and Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London Ann McNeill said: ‘It’s of great concern that smokers still have such a poor understanding about what causes the harm from smoking. When people smoke tobacco cigarettes, they inhale a lethal mix of 7,000 smoke constituents, 70 of which are known to cause cancer.

‘People smoke for the nicotine, but contrary to what the vast majority believe, nicotine causes little if any of the harm. The toxic smoke is the culprit and is the overwhelming cause of all the tobacco-related disease and death.

'There are now a greater variety of alternative ways of getting nicotine than ever before, including nicotine gum, nasal spray, lozenges and e-cigarettes.’