Over the past decade the market for e-cigarettes has boomed, with millions of people worldwide taking them up, fueling what has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. But with this vast and rapid expansion, there has been startlingly few regulations or controls on their manufacturing and content. This has led to many studies claiming that the tobacco alternatives might not be better than regular cigarettes themselves. Now, however, British drug regulators have approved one brand of e-cigarettes to be sold as a medicine to aid in quitting smoking.
This means that the brand in question, e-Voke, which is manufactured by the tobacco giant British American Tobacco, could now be prescribed by doctors in the U.K. for patients wanting to give up regular cigarettes. The evidence for and against e-cigs is mixed and murky. While some studies show that two-thirds of people using the products in conjunction with the National Health Service quit smoking plan were successfully able to give the habit up, the evidence that they are better than traditional tobacco is still unclear.
Just last month, a study looking into the safety of e-cigs was published in the Journal of Oral Oncology. They found that vapor containing nicotine from the electronic devices was more likely to damage and kill cells in the lab than vapor that was nicotine free. This led the researchers to claim that they were no better than regular cigarettes, which have a similar effect on cells, although they did also state that as these experiments were done in a laboratory setting, they might not be completely applicable to the real world.
This new ruling by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency means that the e-Voke products are the first e-cigarettes to be approved as medicine in Britain. This comes on the back of an announcement last year by Public Health England, the agency in the U.K. that aims to protect the public’s health, which concluded that e-cigarettes were “around 95 percent less harmful than smoking.” While the approval may now open up the door for doctors to start prescribing them to patients, many are still reticent to do so.
“Potentially, there may be a place for the prescription of e-Voke as part of a smoking cessation programme, but [doctors] would be very wary of prescribing them until there was clear evidence of their safety and of their efficacy in helping people to quit,” explained Dr. Tim Ballard from the Royal College of GPs in a statement. “At the moment there isn't the evidence and the guidance hasn't been written to help [doctors] make those decisions.”