Is the NHS about to change the way we perceive vaping?

/ 7 min read

Is the NHS about to change the way we perceive vaping?

Despite the persistence of varied consumer misconceptions and sensationalised media coverage in recent years, global attitudes towards vaping are beginning to place increased value in science over speculation when considering vaping as a smoking alternative.

This shift is most recently evidenced by a new landmark trial currently underway in UK hospitals across the nation, in conjunction with the NHS, that seeks to provide smokers visiting A&E departments the opportunity to receive a free vaping starter kit and relevant advice on quitting, to further assess if e-cigarettes are a viable option for improving the quit rate of patients.

How the Trial will Operate

Who will it Involve? 

Five NHS hospitals: Norfolk, Leicester, Edinburgh and two in London are participating in the trial, which will target visitors to their A&E departments. Visiting patients who have identified as smokers will be offered vaping “starter packs” containing a device, enough e-liquid to last for approximately one week, referral to local cessation services and general medical advice. Once these initial supplies have been consumed, participants will be expected to fund additional vaping materials themselves.

How Long will it Run? 

The thirty-month trial is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and will be split into two groups, aiming to reach 1000 smokers collectively. The first group will be provided with the materials above, and the second will only receive basic leaflets detailing local smoking-cessation services. Members of both groups will be contacted at one, three and six-month increments, to enquire as to whether they are still actively smoking or if their habits have in fact changed since their induction into the trial.

When will the Results be Published? 

We can expect results to be made public in approximately 8-10 months, once the trial as concluded and the data has been collated and interpreted. Results are still pending but the exciting conclusion to this trial could usher-in a major turning point in public attitudes towards vaping, at the behest of NHS and therefore government endorsement.

Why the Trial is Being Run 

E-cigarettes are not currently available on the NHS outside of such trials, however should it find success, there is a strong possibility that vaping technology will be incorporated into broader, official NHS schemes as an arm of their quit smoking service provision, as the UK works towards the government-led goal of a smoke-free future.

With Yorkshire Cancer Research’s landmark investigative film Vaping Demystified in recent memory, this study marks yet another exciting step towards debunking the vaping mythos and cementing its place as a publicly viable cessation option.

The Statistics Behind the Trial 

This trial in particular came into reality following the latest update by PHE in February 2021 to their ongoing e-cigarette evidence review, which found vaping to be the most popular way for smokers to quit, with 27.2% using e-cigarettes, while only 18.2% utilised traditional NRT like patches and gums. The subsequent reports highlight a number of key stats that are the driving influence behind the enaction of the trial detailed above:

  • Nicotine vaping products were the most popular aid (27.2%) used by smokers trying to quit in England in 2020.
  • It is estimated that in 2017, more than 50,000 smokers stopped smoking with the aid of a vaping product who would otherwise have carried on smoking.
  • 38% of smokers in 2020 believed that vaping is as harmful as smoking – 15% believed that vaping is more harmful.
  • Using a vaping product as part of a quit attempt in local stop smoking services had some of the highest quit success rates according to the NHS*** – between 59.7% and 74% in 2019 and 2020.

The Trial Leader’s Perspective 

Led by Prof Caitlin Notley of the University of East Anglia’s (UAE) Norwich Medical School, the trial intends to introduce the idea of attempting to quit while using e-cigarettes to a group who may have never considered it previously, while simultaneously measuring their response against that of a control group with access to only traditional cessation guidance, not including vaping.

Professor Notley openly endorses the benefits of vaping in smoking cessation, describing it as an “attractive option” that we know is “much less harmful than smoking tobacco and has been shown to help smokers quit” highlighting her perceived importance of running the trial towards improving public wellbeing through education and expert guidance.

Why they are Targeting NHS A&E Departments 

The long-form intent is to improve peoples lives but also to reduce the pressure on public health services by reducing the impact of lifestyle factors that make them repeat patients. Trial co-lead Dr Ian Pope, also of UEA, states that approximately one quarter of the 24 million annual A&E visitors in the UK are active smokers.

He goes on to say that “Attending the Emergency Department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery from whatever has brought them to hospital, and also prevent future illness”.

Further to this impetus, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the UK, with 75,000 people in England alone dying from conditions brought on by the habit as recently as 2019.

Global Misconception 

Leading health experts globally have begun expressing a shared fear that the misconceptions surrounding vaping are now playing an active role in reducing the number of successful quit attempts, by preventing people from engaging with vaping products as a cessation tool due to increasingly ungrounded fears of a lack of safety and regulation.

In the UK and Europe, e-cigarette and e-liquid manufacturers like EDGE are held to strict quality standards by the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) which effectively governs the industry and ensures the public interest is always protected. Despite these strict regulations being in-play for some years, consumers are still dogged by the aforementioned fears brought about by misinformation and sensationalist journalism.

Debunking the Myth 

The introduction of trials such as this one reflects a desire from leading official bodies to educate the public and debunk myths by proving vaping’s functionality and benefit as a quitting tool. Lending voice to this desire, John Newton, director of Health Improvement at Public Health England (PHE) states that:

“vaping is one of the most effective quit aids available. Thousands more could have quit except for unfounded safety fears about e-cigarettes. The evidence has been clear for some time that, while not risk-free vaping is far less harmful than smoking”.

His sentiment mirrors the stance taken by PHE on vaping as early as 2015, when they published a landmark study hailing vaping products as 95% less harmful than cigarettes. Far more recently than that, Yorkshire Cancer Research have produced an in-depth investigative film following an extensive study which compiled the data and opinions of a diverse group of leading health experts, category analysts and industry chiefs regarding vaping’s application to the health sector and how this is being hampered by ungrounded misconception. To learn more about this film and the exciting conclusions it draws, head over to our blog: Vaping Demystified

The EDGE Perspective

There is a clear intent from health experts to encourage a public departure from the warped perspective many maintain after over a decade of blurred lines between opinion and fact and general misrepresentation of the vital international differences in e-cigarette and e-liquid regulation and quality.

The mounting evidence coupled with the frustration of leaders within major governmental and private sector healthcare organisations will likely see an increase in the frequency of trials of this nature as research progresses until public perceptions improve. EDGE remains committed to the quality of our products and the safety of our customers, taking significant internal steps to ensure our total compliance.

We excitedly await the conclusion of this study, marking potentially one of the most historic moments in the evolution of public opinion on vaping and its staggering relevance to those seeking a smoke-free future.