The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) continues to advise a ‘precautionary' approach to e-cigarettes, despite new NICE draft guidance suggesting vaping is an effective method of smoking cessation.

The draft recommendations, published today (25 June) and written jointly with Public Health England (PHE), recommends that people who are trying to give up smoking should be able to use e-cigarettes. Healthcare staff should give people ‘clear and up-to-date information’ on the product, it says.

‘The evidence shows that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes can help people to stop smoking and are similarly effective to other cessation options such as a combination of short- and long-acting nicotine replacement therapy (NRT),’ the guidance states.

NICE’s expert committee concluded that, when combined with behavioural support, the use of short- and long-acting NRT or e-cigarettes were more likely to result in people successfully quitting.

However, the RPS told the Pharmacist that, although it welcomes the guidance, it remains cautious about the use of e-cigarettes until more evidence is published.

Gino Martini, chief scientist at RPS, said: ‘It is great to see the expertise of pharmacists in smoking cessation recognised.

‘However, public health funding has cut many of the cessation services previously offered by pharmacies.

‘People should be advised of all the smoking cessation options available so that they find the one that’s best for them, and the ultimate aim should be to support people to stop using e-cigarettes and to be free of nicotine addiction all together.

‘RPS advocates the precautionary principle approach to minimise exposure to e-cigarette vapour until more safety data becomes available.’

A PHE report, published earlier this year, said evidence collected over several years suggested that as the use of vaping products in quit attempts increases, the number of successful quits in England also increases.

However, the authors of the guidance did note that the long-term side effects of e-cigarettes on health are still ‘uncertain’.

They also call for further research into both short- and long-term health effects from vaping and whether there are specific risks for pregnant women and young people.

Data published last July suggested that over one million people have given up smoking since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The survey carried out on behalf of the charity Action on Smoking Health (ASH), also found that 440,000 smokers have tried to kick the habit during this period.

Pharmacists reported an influx of patients using smoking cessation services during the lockdown after evidence emerged which suggested that smokers who have Covid-19 are at a higher risk than non-smokers of severe illness and death.

Commenting on NICE’s draft guidance, Dr Paul Chrisp, director of its centre for guidelines, said: ‘These draft guideline recommendations are a renewed effort to reduce the health burden of smoking and to encourage and support people to give up smoking.

‘Smoking continues to take a huge toll on the health of the nation and accounts for approximately half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society.

‘We need to use every tool in our arsenal to reduce smoking rates, including education, behavioural support, financial incentives, and e-cigarettes if people are interested in using them.'