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UK chief pharmaceutical officers express concern over pharmacies selling e-cigarettes

Chief pharmaceutical officers of the four UK health departments agree that pharmacies should not sell e-cigarettes until there are licensed products available

The UK’s four chief pharmaceutical officers have spoken out on the issue of community pharmacies selling and promoting unlicensed e-cigarettes and express their concerns in a letter written to The Pharmaceutical Journal this week (3 May 2014).

They say they can only support the sale of e-cigarettes in pharmacies once they have been regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, a view that reflects the position of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The chiefs remind pharmacy staff that as unlicensed products e-cigarettes “should not be presented as having any therapeutic value”.

In their letter they point out that there is so far limited scientific evidence supporting the efficacy, quality and safety of e-cigarettes and that they can only be promoted as a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) once they have been regulated as a medicine by the MHRA.

They write: “Until such time as the MHRA licenses individual e-cigarette products, we cannot support their use or promotion as smoking cessation aids.

When advising people on which nicotine-containing stop smoking product to use, pharmacy staff should be aware that some products may not be licensed and should not be presented as having any therapeutic benefit.

“When advising people on which nicotine-containing stop smoking product to use, pharmacy staff should be aware that some products may not be licensed and should not be presented as having any therapeutic benefit.” 

Lloydspharmacy was one of the first major high-street pharmacy chains to sell e-cigarettes, with Boots following suit in February 2014, offering the product to people aged over 18 years at 2,400 of its stores.

In response to the chief pharmacists’ concerns, Boots UK said in a statement that it had spent two years working closely with Fontem Ventures to develop a “high quality (pharmaceutical grade nicotine), safety reviewed and rigorously tested e-cigarette”.

It did not “endorse” the use of all e-cigarettes and shared the concerns of the medicines regulator about the variance of available products.
It went on: “We have been open and transparent in our decision to sell e-cigarettes, thoroughly considered the facts, the views of various healthcare bodies, the needs of our customers, the opinions of our pharmacists and consulted with both internal and external experts. We have been upfront in sharing with the MHRA that we aim to be first to retail a licensed product (as soon as one is available).”

Superintendent pharmacist at Lloydspharmacy Steve Howard confirmed that the company is not recommending e-cigarettes as a nicotine replacement therapy. He said there was a “lot of confusion” about e-cigarettes and more needed to done to educate the public about the variance in their quality.

He said: “These were factors we considered when taking the decision to stock an e-cigarette product.”

The Department of Health told PJ Online that pharmacists should “take account” of the RPS and chief pharmaceutical officers’ statements when deciding whether to sell e-cigarettes. 

The chiefs’ letter coincides with publication of results from a survey commissioned by the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which revealed that adult use of e-cigarettes over the past two years in Great Britain is estimated to have tripled from 700,000 in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2014.

The figures are based on the results of the latest 2014  online survey it commissioned by YouGov of 12,269 adult smokers in Great Britain which took place between 5 and 14 March 2014.

The estimated number of e-cigarette users was calculated using the survey results and the official GB population figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137984

Readers' comments (1)

  • Boots and Lloyds work to different rules to the rest of us though, don't they?!

    And will the GPhC or RPS do anything?

    NO, just like the old RPSGB never did either! 

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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