As the UK government’s ‘smoke-free by 2030’ plan steps up a gear, the NHS has made a landmark decision to carry out a trial that would see e-cigarettes put in the hands of smokers looking to begin their quitting journey.
This decision was previously unthinkable even as recently as 2019, with prominent misconceptions and often damning media coverage of the vaping phenomenon preventing many from engaging with e-cigarettes as a cessation tool.
Global attitudes have begin slowly turning in favour of vaping as a potential boon for stop smoking services, in light of an ever-growing body of evidence that is becoming more readily endorsed by healthcare professionals and national leadership.
The UK specifically however is pioneering this shift, with the MHRA calling for vaping manufacturers to submit their devices en-masse for medical registration, with the final intent being a fully prescribed vaping option for quitters. If this can be achieved quickly, the UK will become the first country in the world to offer such a resource.
A Vital Step Towards A Smoke-Free 2030
Despite a notable decline in the number of smokers in the UK over the last few years, 6.1 million people still identify as regular users of cigarettes or similar tobacco products. This sizeable portion of the population is in stark contrast to the smoke-free generation envisioned by anti-smoking lobbyists and the Government, which would see less than 5% of the total population still identifying as smokers by 2030.
There are fears that without stepping-up the current provisions, this target will not be achieved – which has been stressed by Deborah Arnott (of anti-smoking organisation Action on Smoking and Health - ASH) in response to the latest proposed changes to legislation that would see smoking kills printed on individual cigarettes, as well as a newly increased legal smoking age of 21.
An unsurprising response considering worrying statistics, not least an explosion in youth smoking uptake which has been directly linked to the UK lockdown period at the behest of covid-19. Beyond this spike, the latest update to Public Health England’s (PHE) e-cigarette evidence review, which came in February of this year (2021) has revealed a number of statistics highlighting the need for more action.
The report positions vaping as a particularly popular cessation tool, with 27.2% of quitters in 2020 using e-cigarettes as opposed to traditional NRT products like patches and gums, which accounted for only 18.2% of quit attempts. This popularity does not belie vaping’s success either – according to local stop smoking services, those incorporating an e-cig into their journey had some of the highest success rates (between 59.7% and 74% in 2019 and 2020) as confirmed by the NHS.
Despite this PHE also discovered that of the remaining 6.1 million UK smokers, 38% in 2020 still believe vaping to be as harmful as smoking, with a further 15% believing it to be worse. A prevailing fear among consumers, despite PHE’s own landmark report in 2015 that established vaping to be around 95% less harmful than cigarettes.
This snapshot is only a fraction of the evidence that has triggered actions like the ongoing NHS A&E trial.
A Landmark NHS Vaping Trial
In a twofold effort, the ongoing trial seeks to both improve public perceptions of vaping while simultaneously cementing its benefit and safety as a cessation tool – one worthy of incorporation into the UK’s official stop smoking services. The longform benefits
The trial will occur across 5 NHS hospitals; two in London, and one each in Norfolk, Leicester and Edinburgh. Visitors to the A&E departments at these locations who identify as smokers will be offered vaping starter packs consisting of a device and an approximate one-week supply of e-liquid. In addition to the usual referral to stop-smoking services at a local level and medical advice. Once the initial volume of e-liquid is consumed, participants are expected to source their own for the remainder of the trial period.
The trial will target two groups totalling 100 smokers collectively. The first group will receive the above vaping packs, while the latter will receive only standard advice and referral information. The participants who agree to take part will be contacted three times over 6 months, to assess their progress in light of the support provided. The hope is that those using e-cigarettes will find greater success with improved abstinence rates.
Results of the study will be published following the conclusion of the trial in 2022 and will undoubtedly add to the body of evidence already pushing vaping into the cessation spotlight. The longform intent of the process is to produce a new solution to help reduce the number of UK smokers and alleviate pressure on vital NHS services – eroding the 75,000 annual deaths directly linked to tobacco consumption.
Response To The Trial
While the final results are to be disclosed, the leaders behind the trial are hopeful of its success. The number of UK vapers has increased exponentially over the last few years, and with official medical and government backing it is believed that it has the potential to reach even greater heights.
With improved accessibility and the reassurance of a prescribed vaping option, it is hoped that public perceptions will improve as historic myths are debunked, encouraging those who may have held-back previously to engage with a tool that could double their chances of quitting successfully.
Professor Caitlin Notley of the University of East Anglia’s (UAE) Norwich Medical School is the trial lead. She openly endorses the benefits of vaping in smoking cessation, describing it as an “attractive option” that we know is “much less harmful than smoking tobacco and has been shown to help smokers quit” stressing her belief in the importance of running the trial as an effort toward improving public wellbeing through education and expert guidance.
Trial co-lead Dr Ian Pope, also of UAE, has emphasised the potential benefit the trial poses, particularly in light of the fact that one quarter of the current 24 million annual A&E visitors identify as active smokers. He has said: “Attending the Emergency Department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery from whatever has brought them to hospital, and also prevent future illness”.
Check out our Vape Hub to keep up with the latest developments as the trial continues. 2021 has brought about a number of exciting changes to the tobacco and vaping landscape that we are actively reporting on to ensure you can stay on top of the biggest changes and how they might impact your vaping journey.