Electronic cigarettes are now available for free on the NHS, despite an ongoing debate about the safety of the technology.
Research last week suggested that e-cigarettes are in fact no safer than traditional tobacco products, despite the fact that some health experts have recommended smokers switching to the new vaping technology.
Under the new regulations, it will be possible for e-cigarettes to be prescribed by doctors, alongside other traditional aids to help smokers such as nicotine patches and chewing gum.
The technology is intended to be an aid to ultimately quitting smoking and cutting one’s dependence on nicotine, rather than a replacement for the traditional tobacco product.
But Scottish GPs said more research into their long-term effects is needed and public health minister Maureen Watt warned that they are “not risk-free”.
An American study has already asserted that electronic cigarettes may be as harmful as smoking.
The e-Voke, made by British American Tobacco, is the first e-cigarette to be licensed by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and will now be available via traditional prescription.
This technology would otherwise cost £20, with replacement cartridges retailing at £10 per week.
By comparison, a week’s supply of nicotine patches and chewing gum costs in the region of £10.
Already, 5 per cent of the Scottish population uses e-cigarettes, yet BMA Scotland has banned them in public places, also outlawing their sales of people aged under 18.
There is still considerable concerns that e-cigarettes may not offer a legitimate alternative to traditional tobacco products, and also that they may not even be an effective way of quitting smoking in the longer term.
Dr Andrew Thomson, a GP in Tayside and a member of the BMA’s Scottish Council, commented on the decision, striking a note of caution about the impact of e-cigarette technology.
“Further research is needed to learn more about the long-term effects of electronic cigarettes to uncover whether they are an effective and safe way of reducing tobacco harm.”
BMA Scotland stated that it was up to individual GPs to decide whether to prescribe e-cigarettes to patients.
On the other hand, some general practitioners have indicated that they would be willing to prescribe the technology if required.
Dr Jean Turner, a patron of the Scotland Patients Association, commented that “if you spend money now helping people getting off cigarettes, it will save them a lot of misery in the long term and save the NHS money treating people with vascular and lung disease.”
Scottish MSPs have recently that a lot to restrict the advertising of te-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are to be prescribed on the NHS for the first time in the New Year, but the health service still has to face logistical issues about introducing this policy.
It has been stated that there are fears that GPs could be overrun by people demanding this prescription.
It will soon be possible for doctors to hand the device to smokers who intend to quit the habit, a move that will reportedly cost the NHS in the region of £20 per person.
In addition, each e-cigarette prescription will cost £10 per week for the supply of patients cartridges.
The government believes that the technology is significantly less harmful than smoking, and that the government believes that this medicinal license application will have a significantly positive influence on public health.
It is predicted that this new prescription move will ultimately lead to long-term health budget savings.
And the decision has already been welcomed by the anti-smoking organisation Action on Smoking and Health.
It is already estimated that in excess of 2.5 million people utilise E-cigarettes, with the technology believed to be 95 per cent safer than tobacco.
Cartridges used in the rechargeable devices contain ‘pharmaceutical grade nicotine’, according to British American Tobacco.
While the public smoking policies introduced by the government previously have had a significant influence on the habit, around one in three people in the UK continued to smoke E-cigarettes.
At least 76,000 lives could be saved every year if all smokers switched to electronic cigarettes, according to Public Health England .
Numerous studies have been carried out on the effects of E-cigarettes, but owing to the short lifespan of the technology thus far, it is impossible to explore the long-term influence on health.
While E-cigarettes contain carcinogens and other toxic chemicals contained in tar from tobacco, e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and so avoid delivering these substances.
Thus, the general consensus of opinion is that E-cigarettes are significantly safer than tobacco, even if there are no studies to back this up over anything other than a short-term timeframe.
However, there are also concerns about the normalisation of smoking E-cigarettes.
The emergence of e-cigarettes has led to fears that they will act as a gateway to smoking conventional cigarettes among those who have never smoked.
There is no evidence of this having occurred as of yet, but as the phenomenon becomes more popular it is possible that E-cigarettes could lead to more young people taking up the habit of smoking conventional cigarettes.
Nonetheless, the NHS has decided to reveal this policy in order to attempt to address the existing health situation.
But Professor Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary, University of London, suggests that there is a possibility that E-cigarettes could become a new gateway drug.
“People who are attracted to e-cigarettes are the same people who are attracted to smoking. People who drink white wine are more likely to try red wine than people who do not drink alcohol.”