E-cigarettes will be made available to smokers looking to quit in England

Doctors will be able to hand out e-cigarette prescriptions from 2016 — reports the Electric Tobacconist’s Pascal Culverhouse

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England’s national health service, the NHS, will be giving e-cigarettes to smokers who want to quit for just the price of a prescription. This decision by the UK’s government and Health Department confirms what vapers have been aware of for a long time: that vaping is better for your health than smoking, and that there is a net public health gain when smokers switch from tobacco products to e-cigarettes. They have also suggested that vaping is an effective quitting tool — something which some politicians have been reluctant to concede in the past.

Would-be quitters will be given an e-Voke starter kit made by British American Tobacco.  They will also be able to get new cartridges worth £10 every week to keep them topped up. The product has been licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. The decision has no doubt been influenced by scientific claims that e-cigarettes are “95% safer than tobacco” and that swapping to vaping is a move that would save tens of thousands of lives.

The government has not formally announced the policy, though it has been confirmed by the Health Department, as they didn’t want doctors to be “overrun”.

According to Sunday People newspaper, a government source told them that: “We didn’t want to make a song and dance about it because GPs would be overrun by people demanding it. But this is something we’ve been pushing for.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said: “We want to see a wide range of good quality e-cigarettes on the market including licensed products whose safety, quality and effectiveness are independently assured. We welcome the arrival of licensed products that can be prescribed alongside existing nicotine replacement therapies.”

While a move toward more vapers and fewer smokers is a step in the right direction, there are still concerns over the effectiveness of the e-Voke. The e-Voke has been roundly criticised for being a poor product, and research reveals that cigalike models are less effective in helping smokers to quit than second-generation models.

One of the major problems with government regulation is that it moves so slowly. The e-Voke is a 2010 model and clearly outdated when compared to e-cigarettes and vaporizers now on the market. In addition, while the Department of Health wants to see more e-cigarettes licensed, the licensing fee is so expensive that only big tobacco companies, like British American Tobacco, are able to foot the bill. Major tobacco companies have a vested interest in not making cigalikes too effective as a quitting aid as this would clearly damage their primary market.

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Next generation vaporizers represent a better product that has a much better chance of getting people to actually quit. But the majority of manufacturers can’t afford to apply for a license, and even if they could, today’s models will be most likely out of date by the time that the license is granted four or five years from now.

Minor gripes aside, the announcement is an important milestone in the history of e-cigarettes and represents a degree of government approval for their health benefits for the first time. Let’s hope that governments around the world watch developments in England closely and that these new vapers quickly move onto a more effective product.

By Pascal Culverhouse, the Electric Tobacconist.

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