GPs in the UK will be able to prescribe e-cigarettes to those trying to quit smoking for the first time from Monday. The move comes despite growing suggestions that the full health consequences of smoking e-cigarettes are still unknown.
The electronic cigarettes will be prescribed alongside other quitting aids like nicotine patches and gum. The first license to be prescribed was given to e-Voke, e-cigarettes produced by British American Tobacco who also own a number of cigarette brands. The brand reportedly costs £20 for a kit and £10 a week for cartridges.
Ministers tried to keep the decision under wraps, with a Whitehall source telling the Sunday People in December: "We didn't want to make a song and dance about it because GPs would be overrun by people demanding it. But this is something we've been pushing for."
E-cigarettes work by heating up a liquid to a vapour that is then inhaled – they sometimes contain nicotine and can come in different flavours.
Are e-cigarettes safe?
Over two million Britons are thought to use e-cigarettes, many of whom are ex-smokers. Public Health England released a report in August saying that evidence suggested e-cigarettes were 95% safer than regular cigarettes and could help smokers quit.
Though, in the last few months, a number of studies have come out suggesting that e-cigarettes might be more dangerous than first assumed. In December, a number of brands were found to contain a chemical linked to bronchiolitis obliterans – a disease known as "popcorn lung".
As e-cigarettes are a relatively new product, studies often cite that more research is needed before they can understand the long-term effects of regular usage.