With the rise of the high street vape shop and the decline of the NHS Stop Smoking Services, it’s no wonder experts in smoking cessation are suggesting that the vaping industry teams up with the NHS to develop an e-cig that could be made available on prescription. This was one of the recommendations in a report on e-cigs by a House of Commons committee in August 2018. Norman Lamb, the chair of the committee said “If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS’s stop-smoking arsenal.”
The NHS currently prescribe other nicotine replacement products like patches and gums, so the idea of an e-cig on the NHS shouldn’t really be controversial. All they would be doing is replacing nicotine delivery from patches to vaping. A prescription e-cig starter kit would provide a big incentive to switch for people on low incomes. If you’re not very well-off, you might easily be put off by an initial cost of £30 or so for a starter kit. There would inevitably be moaning from some members of the public who would complain about subsidising other people’s addictions, but on the face of it, e-cigs on the NHS seems like a good idea.
There are, however, good arguments against doctors prescribing e-cigs. Many vapers would ask why should e-cigs be treated like medicines? They are not sick or suffering any disease, they are just choosing to indulge their pleasure for nicotine using a less risky method. There is also the fact that e-cig technology is constantly innovating and changing so fast. In the time it takes for a product to gain medicinal licence approval, it would be outdated. One last consideration: it’s a pretty safe bet that any NHS approved device would be a bit naff, slightly ineffective and definitely unsexy. There has only been one attempt at manufacturing a medically approved e-cig. BAT planned to have their “eVoke” device approved, but they dropped their plans because of “manufacturing difficulties.”
Traditional stop smoking clinics are currently costing the taxpayer around £100 million per year, but the numbers of smokers using their services have dropped dramatically over the past three years. Increasingly, smokers are using e-cigs to quit and therefore have no need to go down the medical route. The way forward for NHS Stop Smoking Clinics could be to provide access to e-cigs themselves. A recent scheme ran in Hampshire where clinics were giving out vape vouchers to cash in for starter kits at nearby vape shops. If the government rolled out a nationwide scheme like this, it would go a long way to help less well-off smokers get themselves started on vaping.
We’d be interested to hear your views on this. Should e-cigarettes be made available on prescription? Should vape shops work closely with the NHS?