NHS Lanarkshire chiefs are set to review their smoking policy at hospitals after new evidence on the benefits of ‘vaping’.
The smoking ban at Hairmyres Hospital, and other hospitals across the area, could be relaxed following a Health Scotland review, which showed that using e-cigarettes can help give up smoking tobacco.
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde have taken action based on the figures, and say e-cigarettes can now be used on hospital grounds by patients, visitors and staff.
However, the substitute will not be allowed within buildings, or at entrances or exits to hospitals and other health facilities.
Now, NHS Lanarkshire are set to consider if they should also allow the devices on hospital grounds following the new information.
NHS Lanarkshire’s director of public health medicine Dr Harpreet Kohli revealed that they are willing to review the policy if and when new evidence emerges.
Dr Kohli said: “NHS Lanarkshire introduced a no smoking policy which banned smoking on all our grounds and vehicles in 2008 and it was updated in 2014 to include electronic cigarettes as these devices are currently unregulated.
“There remains concern over their safety and efficacy.
“We’re aware new evidence is emerging in relation to electronic cigarettes and we will review our policy as required in the future in line with the evidence base.
“We fully support the Scottish Government’s Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland which has tasked NHS Boards to become completely smoke free on hospital grounds.”
From August 2008, lighting up a cigarette has been banned throughout NHS Lanarkshire’s grounds under the revised No Smoking Policy.
The policy means people are no longer allowed to light up anywhere inside NHS Lanarkshire premises or within the grounds, including areas around hospital and health centre entrances and car parks.
But that does not mean they are entirely risk-free.
Prof Simon Capewell, of the Faculty of Public Health, said there were still many unknown factors.
“We don’t know enough yet about the long-term effects of vaping on people’s health, which is why we need more research.
“The best thing anyone can do if they want to quit smoking is talk to their GP: there’s solid evidence that NHS quit-smoking services help people kick the habit for good.”
But Prof John Britton, who co-authored the RCP report, says e-cigarettes are extremely positive for public health and should be “encouraged and endorsed”.
He said: “The public need to be reassured this is not a new nicotine epidemic in the making. E-cigarettes have very little downside and a lot of potential benefit.”
According to Public Health England, smokers should consider using e-cigarettes alongside NHS quit-smoking services.
Around a third of UK smokers try to quit each year, but only one in every six of those succeeds.
New EU laws are due to come into force in May that will set safety and quality standards for all e-cigarettes and refills. Manufacturers will be required to disclose the purity of their products to consumers.
Dr Tim Ballard, from the Royal College of GPs, said: “Moving forward we would be looking for clear evidence that making e-cigarettes available on prescription as part of a wider smoking cessation scheme is a wise use of both scant NHS funds and GP practice resources, before the College could get behind it.
“It is not just the cost of the product that needs taking into account, but the time and resources that are involved in assessing patients, and monitoring their progress over a prolonged period of time.
“We reiterate our calls for NICE to take a leading role in establishing whether making e-cigarettes available on prescription is the best way forward.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking.
“We know that there are now over a million people who have completely replaced smoking with e-cigarettes and that the evidence indicates that they are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco.
“We want to see a wide range of good quality e-cigarettes on the market including licensed products whose safety, quality and effectiveness are independently assured.”