UK Doctors Duke It Out Over E-Cig Sales and Regulation

Physicians around the world are starting to acknowledge the growing electronic cigarette movement. We have seen many passionate responses from both staunch supporters and skeptical critics. Recently, an online network for doctors in the United Kingdom conducted a survey to see how physicians are currently handling the ecig issue in their practice. Are they ignoring ecigs, condemning them, or recommending vaping for smoking cessation? The results offered a unique look at this issue from a medical standpoint and there were some major differences of opinion. Let’s look at some of the questions the survey posed to UK doctors and how their responses varied. 

First, the survey considered whether ecigs should be stocked in pharmacies. A shocking number of doctors stood in support of pharmacies carrying electronic cigarettes. In fact, two out of every five doctors surveyed said they would prefer if vapers were only permitted to buy ecigs from local pharmacies rather than online or in convenience stores or vaping shops. The opinions were divided on whether prescriptions should be required to purchase electronic cigarettes, with 40 percent saying they should be available over-the-counter and 14 percent stating that they believed ecigs should be restricted to prescription use only.

Of course, some physicians did not support ecigs being available at all. Around 16 percent wanted ecigs taken off the market. On the other hand, 31 percent said that ecigs should be available for purchase at any location. So to break it down into the three main categories, this is how the doctors weighed in: 40 percent want ecigs to be sold in pharmacies, 31 percent say they should be available in all retail locations, and 16 percent said ecigs should be banned. Obviously, three out of four UK physicians are supportive of ecigs.

General Practitioner Dr. James Quekett shared that he believed ecigs would be best utilized if they were sold as pharmaceuticals and treated as nicotine replacement therapy. However, he encouraged other doctors to be cautious about telling patients that ecigs are a safe option. “Since e-cigarettes are not currently regulated as medicines; we do not know exactly what is in them apart from nicotine. Therefore, while it might be assumed that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes because they do not contain all the toxic elements of cigarette smoke, we do not know that for a fact, and we cannot advise patients on any long-term health implications,” he said.

Retired physician Dr. Michael Blackmore said that he would prefer that ecigs be sold over-the-counter in pharmacies, but he also hoped to see additional research on the long-term impact to cardiovascular health. He feels confident that they are a much safer choice than tobacco cigarettes.  “E-cigarettes are undoubtedly safer than tobacco in terms of cancer risk as there are no Benzo(a)pyrenes in the vapor. However, I am less sure about the cardiovascular risk which may be more closely related to nicotine. Since e-cigarettes are much cheaper than tobacco, people may be tempted to actually increase daily consumption of nicotine and this could heighten the risk of cardiovascular problems. I would, therefore, like to see e-cigarettes available as over the counter products in pharmacies until their safety is better established.”

Last year, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency announced that beginning in 2016, ecigs would be regulated as medications in order to insure that they are safe and effective for smokers that use them for cessation purposes. It seems that the vast majority of UK physicians agree with the regulatory agency that e-cigs should not be banned, but need to be closely monitored to insure they are used appropriately.

Have you talked to your doctor about e-cigs? What was your physician’s stance?

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Author Focus: Katie Bercham
Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 2 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community... Read Full Profile >