The Royal College of physicians has questioned the existing NHS position over e-cigarettes.
At present, British doctors are only able to prescribe e-cigarettes if they have been specifically licensed as an aid to quit smoking.
This is currently strictly regulated, but some doctors believe that the distribution of e-cigarettes within the health service should be loosened.
Sales of e-cigarettes have been rising steadily since the first went on sale in 2007 in the UK.
They have already displaced the likes of nicotine patches and gum to become the most popular smoking cessation aid in Britain.
In fact, in many ways the success story of e-cigarettes is quite incredible.
Already 5% of adults in England utilises e-cigarette technology, and the overwhelming majority of these are either ex-smokers or smokers attempting to diminish the amount of nicotine consumed.
Yet the technology remains controversial, and not everyone is convinced of the efficacy of the treatment.
Ministers in Wales attempted to ban e-cigarettes from public places, And many credentialed individuals, backed up by relevant research, believe that e-cigarettes supply little or no positive role in encouraging people to stop smoking.
But the Royal College of Physicians says smokers who use e-cigarettes are more likely to quit permanently, providing they also receive physician support.
And Public health England asserts that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than regular brands on a long-term basis.
However, the technology is not absolutely risk-free, and Prof Simon Capewell, of the Faculty of Public Health, believes that there is still considerable evidence to be acquired regarding this technology.
“We don’t know enough yet about the long-term effects of vaping on people’s health, which is why we need more research. The best thing anyone can do if they want to quit smoking is talk to their GP: there’s solid evidence that NHS quit-smoking services help people kick the habit for good.”
But Prof John Britton, who co-authored an RCP report which is positive about making technology, suggests that e-cigarettes should be encouraged and endorsed by doctors, and that they have potentially very useful public-health benefits.
“The public need to be reassured this is not a new nicotine epidemic in the making. E-cigarettes have very little downside and a lot of potential benefit.”
A Department of Health spokesperson commented thus:
“The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking. We know that there are now over a million people who have completely replaced smoking with e-cigarettes and that the evidence indicates that they are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco. 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.”