E-cigarettes could be prescribed on NHS in world first to tackle smoking habits

29 October 2021, 01:36

E-cigarettes will be available on the NHS.
E-cigarettes will be available on the NHS. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

E-cigarettes could become available on the NHS for the first time after the UK's medicines regulator updated guidance for people wanting to quit smoking.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said e-cigarette manufacturers can now submit their products to go through the same regulatory approvals process as other medicines available via the national health service.

It would make England the first country in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes licensed as a medical product, as long as they are approved for use by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

If a product receives MHRA approval, clinicians could then decide on a case-by-case basis whether it would be appropriate to prescribe an e-cigarette to NHS patients to help them quit smoking.

It comes after a consultation with the E-Cigarette Expert Working Group, a group of UK experts who provided independent oversight and advice to the MHRA.

Until now, e-cigarettes have been regulated as consumer products.

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However, non-smokers and children are continued to be strongly advised against using e-cigarettes.

They contain nicotine and are not risk free, but expert reviews from both the UK and US have said the regulated e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking.

A medicinally licensed e-cigarette would have to pass even more rigorous safety checks.

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Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said the updated guidance was a "strong first step.

"The evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are less harmful to health than smoking tobacco and that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking for good," she said.

"The updated guidance on licensing requirements we have published today is a strong first step towards availability of safe and effective licensed e-cigarette products."

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Opening the door to a licensed e-cigarette prescribed on the NHS has the potential to tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background."

Almost 64,000 people died from smoking in England in 2019 while there are still around 6.1 million smokers in the nation, according to figures given by the Department for Health.

A NHS spokesperson said: "The NHS can only prescribe e-cigarettes when Nice recommends them for use."

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