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Smoking cessation

Select committee launches inquiry into e-cigarettes

After Public Health England highlighted the use of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation, a House of Commons select committee will investigate whether the popularity of e-cigarettes is encouraging young people to start, rather than stop, smoking.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has launched an inquiry into the health benefits and risks of e-cigarettes.

Norman Lamb, chair of the committee, said that e-cigarettes are “seen by some as valuable tools that will reduce the number of people smoking ‘conventional’ cigarettes, and seen by others as ‘re-normalising’ smoking for the younger generation”.

Almost three million people in the UK regularly use e-cigarettes, but there is little consensus on the safety and efficacy of the products as smoking cessation aids. For the first time this year, Public Health England highlighted the use of e-cigarettes as aids to quit smoking in its annual Stoptober campaign. But in draft guidance published last month, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said that while healthcare practitioners should “offer advice on using nicotine replacement products on general sale, including e-cigarettes”, there was “currently little evidence on the long-term benefits or harms of these products”.

Shamir Patel, pharmacist and director at Skelmersdale-based online pharmacy chemist-4-u.com, has previously called for guidance for pharmacists on this topic.

“For too long we have been given conflicting advice on e-cigarettes and their benefits versus their risks,” he said.

It is time pharmacists were given clear guidelines on how to advise patients asking about e-cigarettes. Hopefully, this inquiry will serve to do that.

“Smoking is still a huge problem and pharmacists needs to be well equipped to give patients the best advice possible.”

The Commons committee has said it wants to explore the health impact of e-cigarettes, and identify current gaps in the evidence for risk versus harm. It will also look at the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid, and whether their popularity is encouraging young people to start, rather than quit, smoking.

The committee is inviting written responses to these questions, as well as on the regulatory and economic implications of greater e-cigarette use. The deadline for submissions is 8 December 2017.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203807

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