Watchdogs warn over e-cigarettes becoming more socially acceptable
Watchdogs have warned about the risk of e-cigarettes becoming more socially acceptable.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said existing evidence on their success in helping smokers to quit is promising, but cautioned that they may encourage people who have never smoked to take up vaping.
The agency said almost one in three people use e-cigarettes in their attempt to stop smoking even though there is insufficient evidence to reliably show they work.
And it also warned that the long-term safety of vaping has not yet been established.
"If e-cigarette use becomes socially acceptable, it could lead to new use of nicotine by people who have never smoked before, later migration to tobacco cigarettes, long-term nicotine dependency, and other potential as-yet unknown harms," the Hiqa report said.
The study was carried out to advise on the cost-effective remedies to help smokers quit.
Hiqa said state investment in interventions is effective and provides good value for money.
About 40 million euro a year is spent on stop-smoking medications and the review advised that using e-cigarettes and nicotine addiction drug varenicline, either alone or in combination with nicotine replacement therapy, were found to be the most cost-effective.
It also called for pregnant women smokers to be given counselling to help them stop.
Some 22.7% of over-15s in Ireland smoke - about 820,000 people.
The rate is higher among men at 24.3%, and highest among 25-to-29-year-olds at 33.4%. The poorer your background, the more likely you are to smoke, Hiqa said.
Hiqa added that the results of ongoing trials on e-cigarettes should be awaited before officials recommend them for smokers seeking to quit.
Dr Mairin Ryan, Hiqa's director of health technology assessment, said: "Hiqa advises the minister to await the results of ongoing trials before deciding whether to recommend e-cigarettes.
"A decision to advocate e-cigarette use should take into consideration any additional information on the long-term safety of e-cigarettes use, and any emerging data in relation to concerns about the social normalisation of e-cigarettes leading to increased uptake among people who have never smoked, or later migration to tobacco cigarettes."
The research also said the risk to bystanders from "passive vaping" appears to be very low.
It also said that half of smokers will make one attempt a year to quit, and half of them will go cold turkey - but only 8% of the latter group are successful.
Vape Business Ireland, which represents firms selling e-cigarettes and related goods, questioned the concerns over vaping being a gateway to smoking.
Spokesman Alan Buckley said: "We remain unclear where this concern comes from as the report does not in itself provide any research or even anecdotal evidence to back this up."
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, M inister for Health Promotion, said the Hiqa report would advise the Government on national clinical guidelines for smoking cessation.
"We have a responsibility to ensure that when we encourage smokers to make that quit attempt, our health services provide them with the best possible chances of success," she said.
"When a smoker successfully quits, the smoker wins, their family and friends win, their community wins and the health services win."