By Deirdre Rowsome, South West England Today
July 1 could become the day when physicians in England can prescribe e-cigarettes to patients to try helping them quit smoking.
That’s the day when a regulatory process approved to allow NHS doctors to “validate” electronic cigarettes will begin. But it has taken nearly six years to get this far.
David Asprey, chief executive of e-cigarette firm Nicoventures, said he could hardly wait to hear the news, and this marks the day that good things can happen when two opposing forces come together.
“There’s been the traditional medical establishment in the U.K. who’ve been against the use of electronic cigarettes,” Asprey said. “Now they have to think, ‘OK, now we can regulate them and we can prescribe them.’”
But he noted there were still a few skeptics on that front.
“Doctors and nurses and pharmacists don’t yet know,” he said. “And the members of parliament don’t yet know. So, with the U.K. government, there is still an opportunity to make sure the right ethical and material testing is done.”
NHS England currently treats patients for health issues such as smoking as if they were smoking tobacco. The process has been changed to train doctors to prescribe e-cigarettes with more confidence.
Since the turn of the century, e-cigarettes have been regulated by the FDA, which allows them to carry health warnings. But in the U.K., the government is still testing whether e-cigarettes can be regulated as conventional cigarettes.
Opponents like the Lung Cancer Foundation have argued that e-cigarettes should be treated like traditional cigarettes, and regulation may be necessary to prevent children from having access to them.
But e-cigarette proponents say the light regulations now in place mean the devices can be a useful tool for smokers to quit.
“The benefits for respiratory conditions are enormous. There are many, many studies showing the benefits,” said Simon Clark, from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We think it’s absolutely fundamental to this modern world, especially the U.K., to treat tobacco as it needs to be treated, not as it has been historically.”
“The study findings I’ve seen and heard of really show that e-cigarettes are as good as any other forms of nicotine cessation. … E-cigarettes could be huge — it’s a revolution.”
Despite that hope, some medical professionals remain skeptical that electronic cigarettes work, and are hesitant to prescribe them to patients. The FDA suggests that if you want to try it, use a nicotine patch or a gum.
“The devices will be very accessible, both to youth and to adults,” said Dr. Eve Christian, chief medical officer for the British Lung Foundation.
While Britain may soon start making electronic cigarettes available over the counter, Asprey said he had mixed feelings about this arrangement.
“I’m not convinced it works,” he said. “The devices are not nearly as good as the nicotine patches or gum. At the end of the day, it’s the nicotine you have to consume.”