A major health body in the United Kingdom is urging hospitals to fully ban smoking while encourage patients who smoke to use electronic cigarettes.
Public Health England, an arm of the U.K.’s Department of Health, wants hospitals in the country to become completely smoke-free by embracing the positive science behind e-cigarettes. Despite the fact the devices are helping scores of smokers in the country quit deadly combustible cigarettes, polls show the broader public remains woefully ignorant on how the devices drastically cut harms and future health risks from tobacco, reports the Independent.
Martin Dockerell, head of Public Health England’s tobacco control efforts, argues e-cigarettes should be available for sale in U.K. hospitals and vaping should be permitted in single-occupancy rooms as well as designated communal rooms. The agency says former smoke shelters for patients at hospitals would be converted to vape shelters, and all campus smoking would be prohibited.
The proposals are part of a broader “smoke-free” initiative from the U.K.’s National Health Service.
“There are two parts to being a smoke-free hospital, one is not allowing smoking on the premises, the other is helping every smoker to quit,” said Dockerell, according to the Independent. “Some hospitals will decide, especially with their longer-term patients or patients who don’t have a choice whether they are there or not, where it will be appropriate to have spaces indoors to have spaces where vaping is permitted. The strongest case for that is psychiatric hospitals because [these patients] have got the highest prevalence of smoking and the highest levels of smoking related harm.”
The Mental Health and Smoking Partnership, which includes the Royal College of Physicians and Cancer Research UK, urged health officials in November to open access to vaping, arguing that electronic cigarettes are changing the tobacco landscape in a historic way, offering smokers a tool that is actually effective for quitting smoking. The Mental Health and Smoking Partnership said public health groups and the government must seize this opportunity to help reduce smoking rates for people with mental health conditions, who are twice as likely to smoke as the broader population.
Vaping policies are currently uneven in psychiatric centers in the U.K. and smoking remains “part of the culture in too many mental health settings,” according to the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership. While smoking rates have declined significantly among the general population over the past two decades, they have not shifted in a meaningful way for people with mental health conditions. In U.K. psychiatric units, smoking rates can still be as high as 70 percent.
With the help of public health organizations and government-backed stop-smoking services, the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership hopes to reduce the smoking rate among people with mental health conditions to 5 percent by 2035.
The renewed encouragement from Public Health England is a welcome step in the direction of harm reduction for officials in U.K. mental health services.
Public Health England hopes this initiative and others like it will help educate the public on the relative risks of e-cigarettes when compared to combustible tobacco. Recent polling shows only 2 in 5 people in the U.K. know that e-cigarettes are drastically safer to the user than traditional cigarettes. Data also shows that roughly 40 percent of smokers in the U.K. have never tried a vape, suggesting these smokers may falsely believe that the devices carry the same health harms as smoking.
There are currently roughly 3 million active vapers in the U.K., according to Public Health England.
The U.K. currently has the second lowest smoking rate in all of Europe, and officials say vaping is a big part of the reason.
The U.K.’s Department of Health released a policy paper on e-cigarettes July 18, backing the devices as useful tools to quit smoking and eliminate secondhand risks to the public. The department’s Five Year Tobacco Control plan aims to significantly slash the overall smoking rate, and argues that expanding public access to vaping will help achieve this goal.
Health officials in the country hope to bring the smoking rate down from 15.5 percent to 12 percent by the end of 2022. The report states that the government wants to “minimize the risk of harm” to the smoker and those around them by “maximizing the availability of safer alternatives to smoking.”
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