Doctors Say E-Cigs DO Help Quit Smoking

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Lighting up the December night sky outside London’s O2 Arena are huge video billboards  – and at a concert by British rock band Stereophonics, there is one sponsor: E-Lites, the UK’s largest electronic cigarette company. Not very rock and roll… or is it?

Stands selling the devices do a roaring trade, while the VIP bar has sold out. As the band take to the stage, the green glow of e-cigarettes can be seen amid the flashes of countless mobile phones.
Celebrity fans of vaping – the verb used to describe the ‘smoking’ of  e-cigarettes – include Leonardo DiCaprio, Cara Delevingne, Robert Pattinson and Paris Hilton. So it is seen not only as socially acceptable but, whisper it, cool.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s head of science and ethics, says: ‘What they do is normalise the concept of smoking when we’ve all got used to the fact that smoking in public places isn’t allowed.’
Indeed, current legislation remains confusing. If you want to use an  e-cigarette in the office you would be within your rights – the 2006 Health Act only bans smoking in public places. Yet some employers have already barred such devices – for instance, MPs are not allowed to light up an e-cigar (yes, they make these too) in the Commons

One GP who has triumphed in converting smokers to e-cigarettes  is Dr John Ashcroft, based in a deprived area of Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Last year he turned an empty office near his surgery into Dr Smokeless, a store selling e-cigarettes to patients. ‘I’ve always had a number of patients who I’ve unsuccessfully tried to help stop smoking, and suddenly they’ve stopped by using e-cigarettes,’ he says.

‘Some swap for their health or they want to carry on and “smoke” in the pub. Large numbers of my patients use rolled tobacco which costs £16  a week. But e-cigarettes are even cheaper – 20 a week costs £2.50.

‘The public health gain is going to be very, very large – the biggest we’re likely to see this century. We could ban cigarettes in a few years’ time and tens of thousands of lives would be saved. Are e-cigarettes totally safe? The answer is probably, but we don’t really know. I’d like to see funding for proper research.’

Dr Ashcroft has recently managed to have a code put on the national GP system so that doctors are now able to record patients using e-cigarettes. ‘We need to start recording figures of patients using e-cigarettes and health changes as they swap over. The health gains are immense.

‘When the smoking ban came in  we saw a huge reduction in heart disease. It is likely that figure will drop further thanks to e-cigarettes, although it will take longer to see changes from lung disease.’

Has Dr Ashcroft ever smoked? ‘No, but I keep a few e-cigarettes in my pocket to show patients. I passed them around at a medical conference recently. While doctors recognise the size of the health gain, most don’t know a lot about them.’

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