HEALTH chiefs are considering a ban on e-cigarettes in hospital grounds, even though they may soon be prescribed as a quitting tool.
Use of electronic cigarettes is banned inside NHS Lothian buildings, including the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, but could be outlawed outside when the board becomes smoke-free in April 2015.
The device – which studies have shown helps people kick the habit – splits opinion, with opponents arguing it perpetuates the image of smoking and keeps people hooked on nicotine.
However, it is possible doctors could prescribe the products on the NHS as part of its smoking cessation services once they are licensed as medicines.
Research by the University College London found e-cigarettes can improve the success rate of people trying to quit smoking by up to 60 per cent compared with nicotine substitutes such as patches and gum, or relying on will power alone.
A spokesman for NHS Lothian said use of electronic devices within hospital parameters was “under review”.
ASH Scotland chief executive Sheila Duffy said the popular tools were causing a conundrum for health boards.
“There is a clear case for hospital grounds to be free from tobacco use, which is always unhealthy. However, the approach to e-cigarettes has to be more nuanced,” she said.
“We expect that some types of e-cigarettes will be licensed for medicinal use as a nicotine replacement therapy. Will NHS boards want to ban the use of devices if they themselves are prescribing them?”
Smoking kills 1800 people in the Lothians each year and costs NHS Lothian £76.7 million to treat patients who indulge. The number of adult smokers in Scotland who use e-cigarettes has increased by five times in the past four years. That means it has gone from three per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2014. Despite their increasing popularity, concerns have been raised that they may continue to normalise smoking, particularly among the young.
While they are widely seen as less dangerous than tobacco, others have raised fears about the quality of some products, often imported from overseas.
Tom Waterson, Unison branch chair for Lothian, is against an outright ban as fewer smokers creates a healthier workforce.
“We believe that staff should be encouraged to stop smoking and that e-cigs are what seems a good way of trying,” he said. “Banning the use of them outside would be a backward step in the push for a healthier workforce.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Manufacturers of e-cigarettes can apply for a licence to have their product available as a medicine. The Scottish Government would welcome such a product.”