The tide is turning in favour of e-cigarettes

I recently attended the E-cigarette Summit at the Royal Society in London on 13 November 2014, which aimed to offer the opportunity for debate around the use of e-cigarettes. I am a locum pharmacist and stop smoking adviser, and in my role I come across many patients who are smokers.

For smokers, the use of e-cigarettes is one way to help improve their health because licensed products, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), may not always work for them. And we know it is better for smokers to switch to e-cigarettes than smoke.

A panel of experts — including Peter Hajek, professor of clinical psychology, Barts and The London Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London, and Robert West, professor of health psychology, University College London — told attendees that all smokers will benefit by switching to vaping and passive smokers will benefit, too.

International researchers — who worked with David Nutt of Imperial College London — also reported for Public Health England a stark contrast in harm reduction between cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

During the summit, attendees were told how e-cigarette use is actively shown in clinical trials and in practice to help smokers quit smoking. Professor West said that if e-cigarettes were undermining people’s desire to quit, there would be fewer people quitting. But the opposite applies. Quit rates are higher and quit success is higher now than at any time since the smoking ban. He said e-cigarettes certainly give the same quit rates as NRT with health professional support, possibly more.

West said the Smoking Toolkit study showed that, since 2012, there has been a major increase in the use of e-cigarettes to quit and, since 2013, their use has become favoured over NRT. Around 30% of quit attempts involve the use of e-cigarettes, making them the most popular method of stopping smoking.

What we know from experience in the NHS stop smoking services — and this was discussed at the summit — is that dual users (i.e. those still smoking but also using e-cigarettes) are found to have been likely to have tried to quit in the recent past and are more likely to quit in the future, because every quit attempt increases the chance of quitting for good.

Leicester Stop Smoking Service manager Louise Ross expounded the virtues of being broad-minded with regard to e-cigarette use in one session. In the past year, they have started recommending e-cigarettes to patients and the difference since they started doing so has been a 20% increase in quit rates, which they attributed to the rise in e-cigarette use reported by their clients.

Also, research presented by Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) gave positive views about the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid.

It is time for those in the profession opposed to e-cigarettes to come around in light of growing evidence. Attending this summit has led me to believe that e-cigarettes should be sold and promoted in pharmacies. Vaping is not smoking.


M Cunningham

Horsham, West Sussex 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 6/13 December 2014, Vol 293, No 7839/40;293(7839/40):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20067239

You may also be interested in