Boots and Lloydspharmacy join the vaping fold by selling e-cigarettes
Two major pharmacy chains have decided to sell electronic cigarette products, joining the growing numbers of pharmacies that already do so. The unlicensed products, which contain nicotine, a vasoconstrictor, have been subject to discussion over their quality and safety.
Boots will start selling Fontem’s Puritane in its pharmacies from 24 February 2014, while Lloydspharmacy initially offered NicoVentures’s Vype in a small number of pharmacies in December 2013 and then rolled it out across its 1,500 pharmacies last month (January 2014).
The moves go against advice issued by pharmacists’ professional body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which advises against pharmacies selling e-cigarettes until they become regulated products. On average, some 7 per cent of EU citizens have used electronic cigarettes in a quit smoking attempt, while in the UK, this figure rises to 9 per cent.
Steve Howard, superintendent pharmacist for Lloydspharmacy, told PJ Online: “We agree that the products need to be licensed and we eagerly await MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] news when it comes. In the meantime, we recognise high-quality e-cigarettes can have a role in reducing the harm caused by tobacco and other toxins found in conventional cigarettes. For this reason we have chosen to offer customers a product from a manufacturer that operates the strictest quality control and is completely open with the ingredients used in the liquid nicotine.”
In an “internal communication” seen by PJ Online, Boots’s superintendent pharmacist Steve Banks says: “I think it absolutely would be our ambition to be the first to have a thoroughly tested and regulated product and that will take a couple of years… . I believe that there’s a need from our patients and our customers now who smoke tobacco to find an alternative, and that this can help them reduce the number of tobacco cigarettes that they smoke and that that could have real benefits for their health.”
He adds that more and more customers are asking for these products. “We know patients and customers will continue to buy electronic cigarettes whether Boots stock them or not,” he says.
We know patients and customers will continue to buy electronic cigarettes whether Boots stock them or not
Numark, a 3,000-strong network of independent pharmacies, told PJ Online that it has no policy on e-cigarettes, leaving it up to individual members to decide whether they sell them. And Janice Perkins, the superintendent pharmacist of the Co-operative Pharmacy, told PJ Online that it does not currently stock e-cigarettes “while we review the potential health benefits alongside expert opinion from a number of sources. It is our view that further clarity regarding the licensing of these products would be helpful”.
We recognise individual pharmacies may sell e-cigarettes, but until there is a licensed product the RPS cannot support their sale in pharmacies
Alex MacKinnon, RPS director for Scotland
Rob Darracott, the chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, which represents three community pharmacy associations, told PJ Online that it supports RPS policy on this. He added that Pharmacy Voice was aware that some pharmacies are “trialling” sales of these products and said the organisation would review its position in light of ongoing discussions.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s did not respond to queries from PJ Online.
RPS worried about giving these products “legitimacy”
Alex MacKinnon, RPS director for Scotland, said: “We recognise individual pharmacies may sell e-cigarettes, but until there is a licensed product the RPS cannot support their sale in pharmacies. There are existing proven, safe, evidence-based products already available, which should be recommended to patients wanting to quit smoking.
“Once [the products are] regulated, pharmacists choosing to provide e-cigarettes can do so confident they will be safe and meet the necessary quality standards. The involvement of community pharmacists and their staff in the sale of unlicensed e-cigarettes before then could provide an impression of legitimacy to patients that they are proven medicinal devices when that is not yet the case.”
Tobacco industry links?
Boots’s Puritane product will be exclusively available to Boots from Fontem, a wholly owned subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco. Boots says Fontem “operates at arm’s length” from the parent company. “We have no relationship with the parent company,” Boots says in the “internal communication”.
Boots will be placing the product at the “back wall” of its pharmacies, so its healthcare teams can have a “complete care conversation” with those buying it, ensuring they are sold “appropriately”. But in future Boots may sell the product online via boots.com. In contrast, Lloydspharmacy places its e-cigarettes on the shop-floor.
Boots’s “internal communication” says: “It’s important that it doesn’t look to the customer that we are advocating electronic cigarettes over NRT [nicotine replacement therapies] (because we aren’t), and it is important that our show material doesn’t mislead customers into thinking electronic cigarettes are licensed for cutting down or stopping smoking.”
The company has left it up to pharmacists’ professional judgement as to whether it is appropriate to sell the product to individuals, but adds it would not be “comfortable with blanket decisions to not supply or with the product being removed from shelves”.
Katherine Devlin, the president of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA), told PJ Online that there was a growing presence of e-cigarettes being sold in pharmacies and supermarkets. Although ECITA did not have a breakdown of data, it said online sales are “slightly over” retail sales. She said the MHRA has received some 20 applications seeking product licences for e-cigarettes. “The MHRA has failed to licence any product. Companies are redesigning the products to fit the medicinal framework,” she claimed. The MHRA told PJ Online that it does not comment on applications, but added that the products would have GSL status.
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11134333
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