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Free vapes at hospital could help thousands quit smoking, study suggests

Free vapes in emergency departments could help thousands quit smoking, a study has suggested.

Research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) said that providing A&E patients with e-cigarettes and a referral to a stop smoking adviser helped them kick the habit more than those who were just pointed to advice.

Dr Ian Pope, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, added that the scientists behind the study now believe that “if this intervention was widely implemented it could result in more than 22,000 extra people quitting smoking each year”.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that about 6.4 million adults in the UK were smokers in 2022, while the NHS says around 76,000 people in the UK die every year from smoking.

Vaping: How harmful is it, is it better than smoking cigarettes, and what’s the evidence?

In their study – carried out between January and August two years ago in six emergency departments across the UK – the team offered around 484 daily smokers brief advice from a dedicated adviser while at hospital, along with an e-cigarette starter kit, and a referral to stop smoking services.

Vapes for sale in London. Pic: AP
Image: Vapes for sale in London. Pic: AP

A second group of 488 patients were only given written information on how to access stop smoking services.

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After six months, researchers offered members of the study a carbon monoxide test to confirm if they had given up cigarettes. Those given vapes and a referral were 76% more likely to have stopped.

Comparing the groups, 7.2% of those given vapes stopped smoking at six months while 4.1% of those given just advice had quit.

The first group were also more likely to try to stop, and self-reported that their seven-day abstinence from smoking after six months was a little over 23% compared to 13% in the group signposted to services.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health, said that the findings “are compelling” and should be “carefully considered by those in the NHS and local government who are planning services for smokers”.

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An NHS spokesperson said in response to the report: “Smoking costs the NHS and the taxpayer billions every year in avoidable health and social care costs.

“Encouraging more people to stop smoking tobacco will support them to have healthier lives.”

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Is vaping a cancer risk?

It’s not the first time vapes have been suggested for Britain’s hospitals. In 2018, Public Health England recommended that hospitals should sell e-cigarettes and provide patients with vaping lounges.

However, it comes after another study recently found vaping damages the DNA of its users in a similar way to smokers who develop cancer.

And it follows Rishi Sunak’s announcement of plans to ban disposable vapes in a bid to crack down on their use among children.

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Published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, the UEA study said that “while the evidence for using e-cigarettes as a cessation intervention is growing, not enough research is being done to understand how to most effectively prevent e-cigarette use among adolescents, while making them available in a targeted way for cessation”.

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