Nearly one in four recipients of the starter packs reported quitting smoking, and those who didn’t quit entirely, were more likely to have reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked.
The University of East Anglia (UEA) conducted a trial funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), offering free vape starter kits to smokers in hospital emergency departments (A&E), obviously with the aim of helping them quit smoking. Conducted across six UK hospitals, the kits were offered along with advice and referrals to stop smoking services.

The trial involved 972 smokers across six hospitals, randomly assigned to receive either smoking advice and vape starter packs or usual care. The results indicated that those who received the intervention were twice as likely to quit smoking compared to those who received the usual care. Collecting data on the participants six months later, the research team found that nearly one in four recipients of the starter packs reported quitting smoking. Additionally, those who didn’t quit entirely, were more likely to have reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked.

Prof. Caitlin Notley, a seasoned researcher in the field of tobacco harm reduction and co-lead of the trial, explained that many smokers struggle to quit long-term, and vaping makes this easier given that it mimics the action of smoking. Underscoring the health risks associated with smoking, she added that vapes are a safer alternative and therefore reduce these risks while helping smokers to quit.

While Dr. Ian Pope, an emergency physician at UEA, highlighted the importance of encouraging smokers to quit during hospital visits and admissions, given the significant number of smokers attending A&E annually. This would help reaching individuals who may not otherwise seek help, hence hospital emergency departments could serve as valuable locations for smoking cessation interventions.

Why are prescription-only vape sales such a bad idea?

In line with this, a new paper written in reference to the situation in Australia, argued that local pharmacists should be able to dispense nicotine vapes without a prescription. Published on BMJ’s Tobacco Control, the study underlined the significant limitations, including limited availability, criminal penalties for unauthorized possession, and a burdensome process for prescribers, that come with the current prescription-only model.

Research indicates that vaping can be an effective smoking cessation tool, generally surpassing other nicotine replacement therapies in success rates. While not risk-free, the risks associated with vaping are considerably lower than those of smoking due to the lower emissions of harmful chemicals. However, several barriers prevent effective access to prescription-based nicotine vapes.

Some doctors hesitate to prescribe vaping products because they are not approved medicines, or simply because they find the prescription process too cumbersome. Enter online prescribing services, which aim to bridge this gap- sadly these raise concerns about the quality of care, with some online prescribers lacking direct interaction with patients.

Moreover, with fewer general practitioners offering bulk billing, patient costs for obtaining a prescription can be substantial. On the other hand, the current law criminalizes those who vape without a prescription, so anyone caught trying to bypass this system may be faced with penalties varying from fines to jail time, depending on the state or territory.

Pharmacies could still be part of the solution

The BMJ study highlighted that shifting the classification of nicotine vapes from prescription-only (schedule 4) to pharmacist-only (schedule 3), would allow pharmacists to supply nicotine vapes without a prescription. This approach retains health practitioner oversight, reduces costs, and simplifies access for patients. Pharmacists are bound by professional standards, and those who don’t comply face severe sanctions.

Additionally, pharmacists can implement measures to mitigate the risk of youth access to vapes, such as conducting age checks, banning advertising, providing in-pharmacy smoking cessation counselling, and ensuring that only tobacco, mint, or menthol-flavoured vapes are sold in plain packaging. This reduces the appeal of vaping products to young people while facilitating controlled access for those seeking to quit smoking.

An alternative model supported by some lobbyists, is to regulate all vaping products like tobacco, such as in the US. This allows general retailers to sell the products to individuals aged 18 and over, without health practitioner involvement. However, adds the study, this model has significant drawbacks, including the potential to encourage youth vaping and complicate efforts to quit smoking, given that general retailers have a track record of selling to minors.

To this effect, the research team concluded that allowing pharmacists to dispense nicotine vapes without a prescription, presents the most balanced approach to date. It supports smoking cessation while reducing the risks of unauthorized sales to youth. It leverages pharmacists’ expertise and accessibility to create a safe pathway for those seeking to quit smoking, with additional safeguards to ensure responsible use.

The UK to Handout a Million Vape Starter Kits to Smokers Seeking to Quit

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