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England could prescribe electronic cigarettes to National Health Service

The UK Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is issuing updated guidelines that could allow e-cigarette products to be prescribed to those who wish to quit smoking, the UK government said in a statement on Friday.

Manufacturers of e-cigarette products can now approach the MHRA with their products, which will go through the same regulatory approval process as other drugs available on the country’s NHS.

If the products are approved, it would mean England would be the first country in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes licensed as a medical product, the government said.

In Australia, consumers need a medical prescription to legally access nicotine and liquid nicotine e-cigarettes, under legislation passed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) which came into effect on October 1.

However, there are currently no nicotine vaping products approved in the Australian Therapeutic Products Registry (ARTG), with doctors being required to submit individual requests for temporary supply.

Linda Bauld, Bruce and John Usher Chair in Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the news was “excellent”.

“While there is good evidence that electronic cigarettes available as consumer products can help smokers quit, we also know that up to one in three smokers in the UK have not tried these. devices, ”she told the Science Media Center. “Smokers are concerned about safety and misperceptions about the relative risks of electronic cigarettes versus tobacco.

Bauld said the cost of these devices is a barrier for some.

“The option of having approved devices that could be prescribed would reassure smokers about the relative risks and would also help reach those who can least afford e-cigarettes,” she said.

“Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of health inequalities, so anything we can do to help poorer smokers in particular quit is a step in the right direction. “

However, electronic cigarettes are not without risk, the government has recognized.

“Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine and are not without risk, but expert reviews from the UK and US have made it clear that regulated electronic cigarettes are less harmful than smoking,” the government said. in a press release.

“A medically licensed electronic cigarette would have to pass even more stringent security checks,” he added.

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According to the NHS, while electronic cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide – two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke – “both liquid and vapor contain potentially harmful chemicals also found in tobacco smoke. cigarette, but at much lower levels. “

Alan Boobis, Emeritus Professor of Toxicology at Imperial College London and Chairman of the UK Committee on Toxicity, said: “I think it is fair to say that the use of an e-cigarette meets consumer standards. current will be much less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

“Smokers who are trying to quit can try vaping, without waiting for a medically licensed product to go on sale before doing so. However, licensed vaping products will need to meet a standard set by the regulatory body. drug regulation, the MHRA, and in return, they will need to be available for clinicians to prescribe for their patients, which will be an important step forward, ”he told the Science Media Center.

Robert West, professor of health psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Health Sciences at University College London, said the regulatory hurdles to overcome for a product to be approved are “enormous” and it is not. was not convinced that the tobacco industry independent electronic cigarette manufacturers will have the wherewithal to overcome them.

“Smokers can already get e-cigarettes from some tobacco control services and this move could expand access to e-cigarettes,” West told the Science Media Center.

“This could very easily lead to a situation where e-cigarettes from a tobacco company with limited efficacy can be prescribed while much better ones cannot. In my opinion, no health care provider should prescribe one. electronic cigarette produced by a tobacco company, ”he added. .

Correction: This story has been corrected to include a reference to Australian vaping legislation.

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