Electronic cigarette use is rising, with Action on Smoking and Health estimating that there are now 1.3 million current users of e-cigarettes in the UK. This number is almost entirely made up of current and ex-smokers, with perhaps as many as 400,000 people having replaced smoking with e-cigarette use.
In my opinion, the popularity of e-cigarettes means that we have a responsibility to ensure that those using them are aware of the realities of the product. But with over 100 different e-cigarette brands, all currently unlicensed, on the market, how do people who have made the decision to use e-cigarettes get the information they need? At LloydsPharmacy, we have taken the decision to offer one high quality e-cigarette brand to our customers, recognising the role they can have in reducing the harm caused by tobacco and other toxins found in conventional cigarettes.
By allowing smokers to buy reputable, high quality e-cigarettes in a pharmacy environment rather than over the counter at a service station or supermarket, pharmacies are providing the opportunity for customers to talk to a trained healthcare practitioner about their smoking habit and the exact contents of an e-cigarette. As they are not licensed as nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT) products, pharmacists must not recommend e-cigarettes for people who wish to make a quit attempt - instead we should view e-cigarettes as a harm reduction option for smokers who are not yet ready to make a quit attempt with NRT, or those who simply want the opportunity to reassess and consider their smoking habits. This is about helping people to make an informed decision in a supportive environment.
I agree that e-cigarettes need to be licensed and I eagerly await MHRA news when it comes. I also agree with the British Medical Association that e-cigarettes should not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. Concerns about the quality of ingredients in some of the available e-cigarette brands have been widely reported - hence the expectation of the MHRA to regulate these products from 2016¹. After careful consideration we chose to stock Vype e-cigarettes - a product from a manufacturer that operates the strictest quality control and is completely open with the ingredients used in the liquid nicotine. Of course, as with any product containing chemicals, we would always advise customers to store e-cigarettes safely away from children and pets.
Being a pharmacist means making a commitment to improving the health of the community and encouraging people to reduce the amount of nicotine and chemicals they are inhaling is an important step in aiding people in their quit smoking journey. While e-cigarettes remain unregulated the debate will continue to rage, but I believe that by providing customers with all the available options when it comes to smoking and improving their health we are taking a step in the right direction.