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Decision to include vaping advice on official HSE website 'does not represent policy change'

A section on vaping has been added to the official quit.ie site.

Image: Shutterstock/eldar nurkovic

THE HSE SAYS its decision to include a section on vaping on its official quit.ie website does not represent a change in government policy, but followed a reevaluation of information provided on the site in recent months. 

Vaping advice hadn’t been mentioned on the site until last month.

The new section, added on 12 February, stresses that as e-cigarettes are fairly new more work needs to be done to figure out whether they’re safe to help people quit smoking, and goes on to recommend nicotine replacement therapy as a primary course of action. 

The HSE’s advice is that “we don’t yet know how safe they are or if they help people stop smoking”. 

The appearance of the new section followed the publication of major new study on vaping which found that e-cigarettes were twice as effective as nicotine patches or gum at helping people quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

The report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 18% of smokers who switched to vaping devices were able to steer clear of cigarettes for one year, compared to 9.9% of people who relied on nicotine replacement therapies.

However, people who switched to vaping were far more likely to keep vaping, indicating they may have exchanged one nicotine delivery device for another, without ever beating their addiction.

The ongoing vaping habit “raises concerns about the health consequences of long-term e-cigarette use,” the authors of the study said, noting that “e-cigarette vapor contains many toxins” – although the levels and their effects are generally considered to be lower than those coming from cigarette smoke. 

Martina Blake, the HSE lead for the Tobacco Free Ireland Programme, said the quit.ie site was updated simply because people were looking for the latest information on vaping. She stressed that the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes still weren’t known. 

“The HSE provides smoking cessation advice and support to all people – whether they use e-cigarettes or vapes, or not – at quit.ie and would encourage anyone seeking to quit smoking to access HSE Quit services,” the HSE press office said in a statement. 

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Health watchdog body Hiqa found in a 2017 report that there was “insufficient evidence at present to reliably demonstrate their [e-cigarettes] effectiveness as an aid to stop smoking”. 

It also raised concerns about the “social normalisation” of e-cigarettes leading to increased uptake among people who have never smoked, or later migration to tobacco cigarettes. 

Health Minister Simon Harris said in answer to a parliamentary question recently that his department was “actively monitoring publications by authoritative bodies internationally on the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool”. 

Lobby group Vape Business Ireland said in a press release last week that it was delighted at the inclusion of a section on vaping on the HSE website, but that more information should be included on the role of vaping “as a viable alternative to smoking”.

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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