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Smokers at A&E to be given free e-cigarettes in trial to help them quit

Smokers admitted to accident & emergency departments will be given free e-cigarettes and taught how to use them in a groundbreaking trial designed to help them quit.

Hospitals in Norfolk, London, Leicester, and Edinburgh have agreed to participate in the 30-month trial in the latest effort to reduce the number of smokers in the UK. Patients will be offered an e-cigarette, enough e-liquid to last for a week, and a referral to local quit smoking services. Along with this, patients will also receive medical advice detailing the dangers of smoking and how quitting could benefit them in the short and long term. 

The trial is not the first time hospital patients have been targeted to reduce the smoking levels in the UK. In 2019, the NHS partnered with Ecigwizard to open the very first vape shops in NHS hospitals.

NHS offers free e-cigarettes to smokers

E-cigarettes are currently unavailable on the NHS, except for in trials, and numerous expert studies have been released outlining the benefits of using vaping to quit. 

Growing evidence supports their use in smoking cessation, Public Health England says, with an estimated 50,000 smokers quitting a year in England with the help of vaping. Public Health England also previously released a study stating that vaping is better than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). 

NHS experts consider vape kits an effective alternative to traditional cigarettes due to the reduction of harmful chemicals inhaled while using them. E-cigs allows users to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke and do not burn tobacco or produce tar or carbon monoxide, unlike usual cigarettes.

Due to begin in Autumn, the trial will target smokers in A&E - regardless of what they are being treated for - and they will be given vaping starter packs and referred for continuing support. Any additional vaping will need to be self-funded and the participants will be contacted three and six months later to check on their progress.

"Valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking"

Prof Caitlin Notley, who is spearheading the study at the University of East Anglia, said recruiting people in emergency departments could help introduce a method of quitting smoking to people who were unaware of its existence.

"Electronic cigarettes mimic the experience of cigarette smoking because they are hand-held and generate a smoke-like vapour when used," she said

"They can be an attractive option for helping people switch from smoking, even if they have tried and failed in the past."

Trial co-lead Dr Ian Pope, an emergency physician, said: “Emergency Departments in England see over 24 million people each year of whom around a quarter are current smokers.“Attending the Emergency Department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery from whatever has brought them to hospital, and also prevent future illness.”

"The best thing that a smoker can do is to stop smoking completely"

Prof John Newton, at Public Health England, said smoking killed almost 75,000 people in England in 2019: "The best thing that a smoker can do is to stop smoking completely and the evidence shows that vaping is one of the most effective quit aids available, helping around 50,000 smokers quit a year," he said."Thousands more could have quit except for unfounded safety fears about e-cigarettes."

The trial is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and will be run by the Norwich Clinical Trials Unit at UEA. Further updates will be released once the trial has been completed.

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