Although smoking is illegal for anyone under the age of 18, the NHS in England could soon prescribe medicinally licensed e-cigarettes in a bid to help adult tobacco smokers quit, according to new guidance by the government.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has welcomed the move, which is part of the government's initiative for England to be smoke-free by 2030.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will oversee the move, it has emerged, and e-cigarette manufacturers can approach the MHRA to submit their products to go through the same regulatory approvals process as other medicines available on the NHS.
Doctors would then get to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it would be appropriate to prescribe an e-cigarette to NHS patients to help them quit smoking, though "it remains the case that non-smokers and children are strongly advised against using e-cigarettes," says the government's advice.
Though e-cigarettes still contain nicotine and are not risk free, they're less harmful than smoking and they've been show to be highly effective in supporting smokers trying to quit. Nevertheless, medicinally licensed e-cigarettes would still have to pass even more rigorous safety checks.
Sajid Javid said, of the scheme: "Opening the door to a licensed e-cigarette prescribed on the NHS has the potential to tackle the stark disparities in smoking rates across the country, helping people stop smoking wherever they live and whatever their background."
Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of premature death and while rates are at record low levels in the UK, there are still around 6.1 million smokers in England. Some of the highest success rates of those trying to quit have been among people using an e-cigarette to help them curb the habit.
The government will also set out plans for a new Tobacco Control Plan in a bid to make England smoke-free by 2030.
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