The NHS could be the first in the world to prescribe E-cigarettes to assist people in quitting smoking.
Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK, killing nearly 80,000 people every year and costing the NHS an estimated £2.7bn per annum.
In 2010 there were 506,100 smoking related hospital admissions and more than seven-hundred-thousand prescriptions were dispensed to help people quit smoking.
Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said "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,"
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has began to invite manufacturers to submit products for approval to be prescribed.
Currently 3.6 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes, most of them ex-smokers.
In 2017 the UK Government began promoting the use of e-cigarettes as a useful tool to help aid people quit smoking and has since been used in pilot schemes but has not yet been made available via prescription.
Whilst e-cigarettes are not completely risk free, they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.
Prof Alan Boobis, Emeritus Professor of Toxicology at Imperial College London and Chair of the UK Committee on Toxicity, said:“I believe that in any discussion on public health it is important to include an objective assessment of potential harm. In the debate on the use of e-cigarettes, the Committee on Toxicity has assessed the relative risk from vaping.'
'I think it’s fair to say that using an e-cigarette that meets current consumer standards will be a lot less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Smokers trying to quit can try vaping, without waiting for a medicinally licensed product to go on sale before doing so. However, licensed vaping products will have to meet a defined standard set by the medicines regulator, the MHRA, and in return they will be available to clinicians to prescribe to their patients, which will be an important step forward.”
If the smoking alternative does become available on the NHS, only certain licensed flavours will be offered.
Prof Peter Hajek, director of the tobacco dependence research unit at Queen Mary University of London, raised concerns of the costs inflicted on the NHS saying: ‘It does not seem necessary for the NHS to pay for something that smokers are happy to buy themselves.’
"Smokers are more likely to benefit from e-cigarettes if they can select flavours, strengths and products that they like, rather than being limited to whatever becomes licensed.
"Overall, it would seem easier to just recommend existing products which are well regulated by consumer protection regulations."