An online survey conducted by GPonline has found that a significant majority of GPs do not believe that e-cigarettes should be prescribed for those attempting to quit smoking.
Nearly 70% of doctors surveyed on the subject rejected this idea, while only 17% explicitly backed the existing Public Health England policy.
14% of the 448 doctors who responded were undecided, but recent evidence from a study in the United States could sway many doctors against the prescription of e-cigarettes, considering that the technology clearly emits numerous harmful chemicals.
The collective wisdom of the doctors goes against advice provided by the health authorities.
A report from the Royal College of Physicians, published earlier this year, advised GPs to promote e-cigarettes “as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking”.
It had been asserted by the report that e-cigarettes represent a viable harm reduction strategy, and the conventional wisdom on the subject initially was that e-cigarettes significantly less harmful than traditional tobacco products.
But this viewpoint is being increasingly challenged as research becomes available, despite the apparent enthusiasm for the technology from health authorities.
After its publication, the RCGP called on NICE to investigate whether e-cigarettes should be prescribed to patients.
However, despite the views of doctors, there is still a significant groundswell of clinicians willing to prescribe the technology.
37% of GPs said that they were likely or very likely to recommend e-cigarettes to patients who are trying to give up smoking, compared with just 28% who said they were either unlikely or very unlikely to recommend them.
The consensus of opinion from doctors is that there is currently insufficient information available, particularly on the long-term consequences of e-cigarettes, in order to provide advice to patients.
This is something that surely must be addressed if voting is to be recommended as a serious medicinal contributor to the cessation of smoking.
At present, the existing health authorities’ policy seems to be rather uninformed and misguided, and evidence is accumulating all the time that e-cigarette smoking could in fact have very serious consequences.
Responding to potential criticisms, a spokeswoman for NICE indicated that its public health guidance on reducing harm from smoking recommends licensed nicotine-containing products.
“We haven’t produced guidance that looks at e-cigarettes specifically. As is usual process, the DH or Public Health England would have to officially refer the products to us before we can appraise them.”