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Why We Need A Clear Message On E-Cigarettes And Vaping

20/10/2017 11:07 BST | Updated 20/10/2017 11:07 BST

It's a subject which splits the health community.

Are e-cigarettes a friend or a foe? Do their benefits outweigh their risks?

One thing's for sure - we don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other. But at some point the Government needs to make up its mind and issue a clear message.

As part of the Stoptober campaign, Public Health England has included vaping among their key stop-smoking tools.

Their bold campaign includes the message that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent safer than cigarettes.

But the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) doesn't endorse vaping and GPs have been told to tell patients "there is currently little evidence on the long-term benefits or harms of these products".

Instead, they have been told to suggest people use the NHS's free Stop Smoking services and use nicotine replacement products including gum and patches, lozenges and throat and nasal sprays.

As a pharmacist, I'm seeing more people attempting to quit smoking through the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. But the problem is conflicting guidance.

What am I supposed to say to my customers? One body says e-cigs are great, the other says they're not.

Smoking costs the NHS around £2bn year, taking into account the cost of treating diseases caused by smoking, including GP consultations, prescriptions, and hospital admissions - so we need people to stop. It's as simple as that.

All the information we have points to e-cigs being the most effective way to do that, with research by University College London saying they have become the most popular cessation method.

As a pharmacist, I think it should be within our powers to offer advice and guidance on the best ways to quit.

On a personal level, if someone came to me asking for advice, I think I would rather direct them to e-cigarettes than gum and patches.

I would then advise them to set a deadline for giving up smoking completely, including the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

If we were looking at any other medicine, the NHS takes into account both the cost and the likelihood the drug will be beneficial.

E-cigs have a 50 per cent success rate. With patches, this goes down to around 20 per cent. If we're looking at it purely based on the chance of success it's a no-brainer. If I was in charge of the NHS's purse strings I know that's what I'd be going for.

On the safety side of things, there is no long term evidence because we haven't got 50 years of data to back up how good they are.

No one can say for sure they are 100 per cent safe - but we know they are much safer than cigarettes.

And I don't think anyone can afford to wait 50 years for some clear guidance to be issued once and for all.

Smoking still causes around 80,000 deaths in the UK. We know there is a big battle still to be had.

The important thing is making sure people are equipped with the most effective weapons available.