In a UK first, regulators have issued a licence for an electronic cigarette, thereby classing it a medicine and paving the way for its prescription on the National Health Service.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has approved the use of British American Tobacco’s e-cigarette e-Voke, in a move that enables doctors to prescribe the vaping device as a smoking cessation aid.
There is hope that such devices might save the NHS a substantial chunk of cash in the long-term, but, despite the MHRA license, e-cigarettes will not be routinely handed out on the health service unless cost regulator the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence rules that they offer value for money.
Also, while some experts believe that a vast number of lives could be saved by swapping smoking for vaping, big question marks remain over their long-term safety and regulation, and the World Health Organisation recommends banning their indoor use.
Just weeks ago, research by the University of California, published in Oral Oncology, concluded that vaping is no safer than smoking as the process can still damage DNA and lead to cancer, and Tim Ballard, Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), told The Telegraph that "GPs would be very wary of prescribing them until there was clear evidence of their safety and of their efficacy in helping people to quit."
Public Health England reported last year findings of an independent review that concluded that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking tobacco. However, a Department of Health spokesperson stressed that “the best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking”.
Tobacco is responsible for around 100,000 deaths every year, and causes more than eight out of ten lung cancers, plus at least 13 other types including mouth and throat cancers, according to CR UK.