Why I welcome the licensing of the first e-cigarettes as a medicine
While research continues into the long-term effects of vaping, the news that regulators have granted the first licence for a brand of e-cigarettes is to be welcomed.
Earlier this month, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHPRA) approved the use of British American Tobacco’s e-cigarette e-Voke.
This paves the way for its prescription on the NHS as a device to help people give up smoking.
Medical opinion is still divided on vaping.
Public Health England has said it considers e-cigarettes to be at least 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes, which cause lung cancer and are linked to many others including mouth and throat cancers.
However the World Health Organisation has called for an indoor ban on e-cigarettes and notes that most of the 470 brands on the market have not been tested by independent scientists.
There is also a concern that vaping could “re-normalise” tobacco use after decades of campaigning to restrict areas where people can smoke and change attitudes towards the habit.
Vaping is still a relatively new phenomenon and we won’t know the results of long-term studies for many years.
However I believe e-cigarettes have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives because of the benefits of not inhaling tar or other carcinogens that are integral to tobacco cigarettes.
I see the devastating consequences of smoking every day in my work as a head and neck cancer specialist, with about three out of four cases of throat, mouth, lip and voice box cancers linked to tobacco or alcohol use.
E-cigarettes are a useful addition to the arsenal of devices available to GPs to help people give up smoking and I am sure they will only be offered when other techniques have proved to be ineffective. The best policy is not to smoke at all, but in the meantime if we can reduce the incidence of harmful tobacco products, then I welcome the move by the MHPRA.