MPs are calling on the government to allow e-cigarettes to be made available on prescription because of their potential to help people stop smoking traditional cigarettes.
A report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee says ministers should “urgently” review the prescribing restrictions on e-cigarette products, which MPs conclude are 95% less harmful to health than conventional cigarettes and are too often overlooked as a smoking cessation tool.
The report ‘E-cigarettes’, published on 17 August 2018, rejects claims that e-cigarettes can be a gateway to smoking — especially for young people — and says the government should allow more freedom to advertise them.
It also suggests that the tax on e-cigarettes should be cut, creating a financial incentive for smokers who use traditional cigarettes to buy the product instead to help them quit their habit.
The report was published as a result of the committee’s inquiry into the impact of e-cigarettes on health, their potential use as a smoking cessation aid, regulations around the products and the implications of their growing market share.
Norman Lamb, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same. There is no public health rationale for doing so.
“If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS’s stop-smoking arsenal”
Lamb acknowledged that while the long-term health impact of e-cigarettes is unknown, they do have value as a stop-smoking tool which could help save the 79,000 lives lost annually in England by people who smoke conventional cigarettes.
“Medically licensed e-cigarettes would make it easier for doctors to discuss and recommend them as a stop-smoking tool to aid those quitting smoking. The approval systems for prescribing these products must be urgently reviewed.”
The committee also recommended that the government and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency should, with the e-cigarette industry, look at how the approval systems for stop smoking therapies could be “streamlined” should manufacturers put forward a product for medical licensing.
It wants a review on the current ban on smoking e-cigarettes in public places and said the government should annually reconsider the evidence about the health effects of e-cigarettes and include heat-to-burn products as part of the review. A long-term research project into their health impact should also be launched with updated evidence available online for health professionals and the public, the committee concluded.