Doctors are being told to advise patients that e-cigarettes are better for you than smoking but warn they are still potentially harmful.
Health chiefs yesterday issued guidance on how to help people to quit smoking – and for the first time it included advice on vaping for the first time.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggested GPs and health professionals should offer patients information on the devices.
But it stopped short of recommending their use as part of smoking cessation services, admitting that their long-term impact is not yet known. The drugs rationing watchdog said smokers often ask health professionals about whether they should use the battery-powered devices as stop-smoking tool.
Having previously told GPs not to recommend them, it now believes advice should be provided to allow an informed discussion of e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking.
It comes despite growing concerns over the devices used by about three million Britons.
Earlier this month, a study by King’s College London and Cancer Research UK found children who tried e-cigarettes were 12 times more likely to smoke tobacco. Studies have linked long-term vaping to heart disease and cancer.
But while acknowledging the risks, the body said this should not discourage smokers from switching to e-cigarettes, which it considers are ‘likely’ to cause less damage.
The NICE guidelines, developed with Public Health England, state patients interested in using e-cigarettes to stop smoking should be told they are not licensed medicines but they have helped ‘many people’ quit. However, as the health impacts are ‘still developing’, the devices should not feature on the approved list of stop-smoking aids which can be made available to adults who smoke.
NICE said it issued the advice because of ‘misconceptions and confusion about the safety of e-cigarettes’.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said: ‘Many people use e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking.
‘The committee considered it likely that they are substantially less harmful than smoking. The committee was concerned that people who smoke should not be discouraged from switching to e-cigarettes because the evidence is still developing.’
Hazel Cheeseman, from charity Action On Health And Smoking, said: ‘As e-cigarettes are the most popular aid for quitting, it is good news that NICE recommends health professionals should reassure smokers they are substantially less harmful than smoking.
‘Looking to the future, it is hoped some e-cigarettes will be licensed as medicines and could then be prescribed, providing doctors with another tool to help smokers who want to quit.’
Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘Doctors and pharmacists should be very clear with people that there is a range of products available and that they can try vaping as a way to stop smoking.’
Mark Pawsey, of the UK Vaping Industry Association, said: ‘Only one in ten people understand the relative minor risk of vaping compared to smoking.’