The annual Stoptober campaign is for the first time highlighting e-cigarettes as aids to quitting smoking, including images of vaping in its television advertisements, and explicitly stating that e-cigarettes are a “great way to combat nicotine cravings and carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes”.
E-cigarettes are not licensed as medicinal products for quitting support, so they cannot be prescribed on the NHS. But their popularity among people trying to quit or cut down, and growing evidence that they can support a quit attempt, has led Public Health England (PHE) to encourage health professionals providing cessation support to discuss them as a potential quitting aid with patients.
The Stoptober quit smoking challenge has inspired more than one and a half million attempts to stop smoking since it began in 2012. The challenge, which begins on 1 October, is based on research showing that people who stop smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to stop for good.
John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE said: “E-cigarettes are now the most popular way to quit in the country, with half of all those taking part in Stoptober last year using an e-cigarette. The evidence is clear — vaping is much less harmful than smoking — a fraction of the risk.”
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) draft guidance, published in September 2017, recommends that potential quitters should be told that some smokers have found using e-cigarettes helpful to quit smoking, but that there is currently little evidence on the long-term effects of vaping.
The guidance also says people should be made aware that PHE has stated that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has expressed concern over the safety of e-cigarettes, and pointed to a lack of evidence of their efficacy when used for smoking cessation.
Source: MAG / The Pharmaceutical Journal
Robbie Turner, director for RPS England, said: “The public have a range of products that they can use to support their attempt to quit. There is strong evidence that regardless of the product, having access to psychological support such as that offered by pharmacy teams significantly improves the chance of success.”
The launch of the Stoptober campaign on 21 September 2017 coincided with the publication of a new analysis from University College of London (UCL), which showed that quitting success rates are at their highest levels for a decade. In the first six months of 2017, the quit rate was 19.8% compared with an average of 15.7% over the last 10 years.
“Many factors may have contributed to the recent improvements in success rates, including an environment that is more conducive to quitting and the availability of a wide range of quitting methods, including e-cigarettes,” the authors said.
Most importantly, the report found that quitting success had climbed in the lowest socio-economic groups. While data collected in 2007 showed that smokers in the lowest socio-economic groups were as likely as those in higher groups to attempt to quit and use quitting aids in their attempts, they were half as likely to succeed. The authors said: “The improvement has resulted in parity between the groups in quit success rates for the first time in over 10 years and possibly ever.”
The Stoptober campaign highlighted the case of 67-year-old James Degnen from Middlesbrough, who quit smoking successfully after using e-cigarettes with the support of his local stop smoking services — South Tees NHS Stop Smoking Service — just before he had major vascular surgery for blocked veins in his legs.
“My surgeon warned me that it was either pack in smoking or risk losing my leg,” he said.
“Having been a casual smoker since age 15, it was difficult for me at first to break the habit. I had been smoking for over 50 years after all,” he said. “The smoking cessation clinic team have been great. I’m lucky to have had such a supportive network around me. I quit with the help of e-cigarettes too and I think it’s made a big difference to me.”