The NHS should not pay for vaping

Even if it is too early to be certain, a growing body of evidence suggests that electronic cigarettes are far less harmful to health than smoking tobacco. A report from Public Health England, King’s College London and Queen Mary University London says they carry just 5 per cent of the risk of cigarettes. This is because “vaping”, as it is called, doesn’t involve breathing in smoke, which contains toxins and carcinogens that cause lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

Health officials now want e-cigarettes to be properly regulated, and for the NHS to dole them out free, to encourage smokers to quit. It is estimated that if every smoker in Britain switched to vaping, about 75,000 lives a year could be saved. Indeed, many of the 2.6 million “vapers” in Britain have managed to give up traditional cigarettes by switching to the new products.

But this does not mean that taxpayers’ money should be used to dispense them for nothing. If a smoker wants to give up, the financial incentive already exists, since e-cigarettes are cheaper than tobacco. Why should the NHS, which is strapped for cash, use its limited resources in this way – especially since most of the electronic brands are manufactured by the tobacco companies, which have moved into the sector as their traditional markets (in the West, at least) shrink?

One thing is clear: there is a perverse hostility to e‑cigarettes that needs to be confronted, since it discourages smokers from switching. Rather than propose that the NHS should pay for them, health officials should challenge the irrational trend towards prohibiting their use in public places.