For the first time, England may be covering the costs of electronic cigarettes to help people quit smoking.
Some of the world’s leading doctors have publicly stated that electronic cigarettes are less damaging than traditional cigarettes, but now the United Kingdom is taking things a step further. According to a report from the BBC, UK medicines regulators have just approved e-Voke, a particular brand of electronic cigarette, to be marketed as a quitting aid for people looking to ditch their tobacco habit.
According to researchers from Public Health England, electronic cigarettes are a viable alternative to regular cigarettes. While using them does not completely absolve oneself of the risks posed by tobacco, and nicotine in particular, it does lead to less overall smoke being inhaled.
Despite the logical conclusion that any tobacco substitute would be healthier than the real thing, other medical experts are hesitant to call the devices “safe.” There is a wide range of research on the products, with some studies painting them as more dangerous than others. According to the Royal College of GPs, many doctors feel reluctant to prescribe the devices without a more definitive body of research on their safety.
Barring any unforeseen negative health consequences, however, electronic cigarettes could help a significant number of people stop using tobacco, and thus could significantly reduce the public health burdens imposed by heavy smokers. Currently, there are roughly 10 million adults, or about 20 percent of the U.K.’s adult population, that smoke cigarettes.
According to Professor Kevin Fenton, the National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, e-cigarettes are already catching on as a good way to kick the habit. “Public Health England wants to see a choice of safe and effective replacements for smoking that smokers themselves want to use,” he said.
According to Dr. Tim Ballard from the Royal College of GP’s, however, funding access to electronic cigarettes could help people continue to make unhealthy choices. “Potentially, there may be a place for the prescription of e-Voke as part of a smoking cessation program, but 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,” he said. “At the moment there isn’t evidence and the guidance hasn’t been written to help GPs make those decisions.”
The debate on electronic cigarettes isn’t likely to simmer down anytime soon; While some medical professionals believe that less smoking in any capacity is a good thing, others are still fearful that substituting electronic cigarettes for the real thing could only lead to more trouble.