NHS offering e-cigarettes would 'disempower' users, MPs told

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Making e-cigarettes available on the NHS could "disempower" smokers, MPs have been warned.

Vaping has been a “consumer-driven innovation” and while products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, users do not feel like they are using a medical product, industry representatives told the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

They cautioned that allowing doctors to prescribe the devices as a stop-smoking tool could have a “detrimental effect” on their success.

Public Health England (PHE) has previously said there is “compelling evidence” e-cigarettes should be made available on the NHS due to their success in helping people stop smoking.

The body said e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than smoking and estimated they could be contributing to 20,000 new quits each year.

Fraser Cropper, chairman of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, told MPs: “We believe that would be hugely disempowering, if you gave the responsibility to a GP, to a prescribed product, that the vaper wouldn’t have the same engagement, the same empowerment.

“It will also potentially limit the range of products.”

John Dunne, director of the UK Vaping Industry Association, added: “Most smokers don’t see themselves as being sick. It is not a disease, it’s an addiction to a substance.

“They also like the fact this is a consumer-driven innovation, it doesn’t feel like a medicine, and I think pushing it down that route would have a detrimental effect.”

Mr Cropper warned that medical regulation of one or two e-cigarette products may not appeal to vapers, who currently have a wide range of choice.

“The range of vaping devices and all its variables are key to its success,” he said.

“You can’t put all those into a set of prescribed products, it would be too demanding.”

However, he said that members would support medical prescription of some products, if it gave access to the products among low-income groups.

He told MPs: “The challenge we have with prescription, is not that it will take business away, but it will actually stem the influence of vaping.

“What we should be doing is recognising the public health agenda is a shared agenda. We as an industry body would love for there to be clarity coming from the NHS.

“We would love for that messaging to be clear and unequivocal about the benefits, and if that meant that certain products had to be prescribed to deliver that clarity of message, we would be four-square behind it.”

The Commons Science and Technology Committee is examining the impact of electronic cigarettes on human health, including their effectiveness as a stop-smoking tool, and the suitability of regulations guiding their use.