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e-Cigarettes: just a gimmick?

Until recently, The Journal understands, a major supermarket stocked e-cigarettes in its pharmacies — not on open sale but available over the counter on request. It has now removed them. This anecdote underlines the mixed views held about e-cigarettes and emphasises the unanswered questions that their existence raises.

The Journal carries an article this week that has considered them from every angle. Even with the help of Terry Maguire, Northern Ireland pharmacist and something of a polemicist, writing about harm reduction, we currently find it hard to nail whether e-cigarettes have a place in pharmacy.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society says that the sale of e-cigarettes from pharmacies may not be in consumers’ best interests. Although they do not contain many of the harmful substances that tobacco cigarettes do, not enough is known about them and their manufacture to be sure that they are harmless to “vapers” (the name given to people who use them) or to those who inhale the vapour second hand.

The second problem is that although nicotine replacement therapy products have gone through the regulatory hoops and are considered medicines, e-cigarettes have not. To many people they are little more than a toy or fashion accessory — witness the range of colours they come in and the celebrity endorsements they have been given. Moreover, for those people who believe that you can only kick a bad habit by stopping immediately, using a faux fag is just plain silly.

A review of these products, currently being undertaken by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, is looking into the possibility of bringing e-cigarettes under the medicines legislation umbrella. The MHRA is expected to announce its decision in early 2013. This should go a long way towards allaying the anxieties of some health bodies.

Yet consider this: do these products not already have some value in harm reduction? Pharmacists can turn to many examples of harm reduction that they generally accept even if not all are wholly comfortable with them: methadone and needle exchange programmes come to mind.

With 100,000 people still dying in the UK from smoking-related diseases each year and nearly 20 per cent of the population still committed smokers, should pharmacists and doctors not encourage smokers to try anything?

e-Cigarettes may not be risk-free, but then neither is any form of NRT. Surely they must be safer than smoking tobacco.

 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11105343

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