GPs should warn smokers there is currently little evidence about the long-term effects, benefits or harms of vaping, new guidelines state.
The move from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) comes despite backing for e-cigarettes from Public Health England (PHE), which says they are a useful aid for quitting.
In new draft guidance, health watchdog NICE does not list e-cigarettes as a recommendation to help people quit but says doctors and nurses should have a conversation with their patients about their use.
They should tell people that although the devices are not licensed medicines, they are regulated by law and some smokers have found them helpful when they wish to quit smoking.
It says patients should be informed that there ‘is currently little evidence on the long-term benefits or harms of these products’.
New NICE guidelines state GPs should warn smokers there is currently little evidence on the long-term effects of vaping (stock photo)
Nevertheless, staff should ‘be aware that PHE and the Royal College of Physicians have stated that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco’.
The safety of the devices, which are not currently not available on prescription on the NHS, has been hotly debated as it is estimated more than 9 million adults in the US and around 2.9 million in the UK vape.
The guideline say GPs and nurses should recommend a combination of behavioural support from NHS Stop Smoking services and products such as nicotine replacement therapies as an aid to quitting.
NICE also recommends employers ‘negotiate a smoke-free workplace policy with employees’ and form rules around cigarette breaks for staff.
Workplace policies should ‘state whether or not smoking breaks may be taken during working hours and, if so, where, how often and for how long,’ it said.
In December, the US surgeon general issued a stark warning over the risks of e-cigarettes – putting him at odds with UK public health officials.
America’s most senior doctor Vivek Murthy said vaping among young people and young adults ‘is not safe’ and is ‘now a major public health concern’.
He said the negative health effects and potentially harmful doses of heated chemicals in e-cigarette liquids are not completely understood.
However, a PHE report in 2015 said e-cigarettes should not be viewed in the same way as smoking.
VAPING LINKED TO HEART DISEASE
Fresh concerns were raised about the safety of e-cigarettes containing nicotine last month after researchers found they increase a symptom linked to heart disease.
The vaping devices were discovered to increase the blood pressure and heart rate of users.
And the study found that a condition known as arterial stiffness was three times greater in smokers using an e-cigarette containing nicotine than in one without nicotine.
While experts still say e-cigarettes are much healthier than tobacco cigarettes, the findings highlight that they are still not without risks.
Swedish scientists warned regular vaping with nicotine liquids or being exposed to other people’s vapours could cause lasting damage to blood circulation.
It said ‘best estimates show e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful to your health than normal cigarettes, and when supported by a smoking cessation service help most smokers to quit tobacco altogether’.
The report – which was heavily criticised – said any new regulations should ‘maximise the public health opportunities of electronic cigarettes’.
It added: ‘While vaping may not be 100 per cent safe, most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals which are present pose limited danger.’
According to NICE, smoking is the main cause of preventable illness and premature death in England.
In 2014/15, an estimated 475,000 NHS hospital admissions in England were linked to smoking and 17 per cent (78,000) of all deaths in 2014 were attributed to smoking.
Treating smoking-related illness is estimated to cost the NHS £2.5billion a year while the wider cost to society is about £12.7billion.