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October 28, 2021

UK National Health Service Will Pay for Prescription Vapes

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) will subsidize the cost of e-cigarettes for low-income residents trying to quit smoking. The initiative was announced today by UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

“Opening the door to a licensed e-cigarette prescribed on the NHS has the potential to tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background,” said Javid.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has published updated guidelines for doctors, according to The Guardian. Patients receiving prescriptions would have the cost picked up by the NHS.

“While there is good evidence that e-cigarettes available as consumer products can help smokers to quit, we also know that up to one in three smokers in the UK has not tried these devices,” University of Edinburgh Professor Linda Bauld told The Guardian.

“The option of having approved devices that could be prescribed would reassure smokers about relative risks and also assist in reaching those least able to afford e-cigarettes,” Bauld added.

The MHRA, which approves drugs and medical devices, has approved an e-cigarette for use before, but the manufacturer never sold the product. There are currently no vaping products approved for prescription use. Medical approval is a much more complex and expensive process than the licensing procedure for consumer products.

It isn’t known if the government will approve high-nicotine products thought to work best getting long-term smokers off cigarettes quickly. Consumer vaping products in the UK are limited to 20 mg/mL (or 2 percent) nicotine strength.

Prof. Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, told the BBC that the new initiative would send a positive message that vaping can help smokers who want to quit. Hajek, a co-author of Public Health England’s famous 2015 report on e-cigarettes, is a longtime proponent of vaping for smoking cessation and harm reduction.

However, Hajek thinks the high cost of a medical application will dissuade many manufacturers, and he questions if approved products will offer the options that make consumer vaping products attractive.

“Smokers are more likely to benefit from e-cigarettes if they can select flavours, strengths and products that they like, rather than being limited to whatever becomes licensed,” Hajek told the BBC. “Overall, it would seem easier to just recommend existing products which are well regulated by consumer protection regulations.”

There are about 3.6 million people who vape in the UK, including more than two million who no longer smoke. Just over six million people smoke cigarettes in England.

Australia has long required a prescription requirement for purchasing nicotine or nicotine-containing vapor products, but the law has been widely ignored by vapers who import products from overseas. The country recently formalized the prescription program, and also created severe penalties for people importing nicotine without a prescription.

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy
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