Should doctors celebrate the rise of e-cigarettes and other alternatives?

    9 September 2016

    E-cigarettes are now the most popular way to quit smoking – more than gums, patches or sprays. Yet they go against medical dogma, which is to promote abstinence. This is because many people use them with no intention of giving up. This model views e-cigarette users as addicts – they are still addicted to nicotine, just as they were when they were smoking regular cigarettes.

    Should doctors be relaxed about this addiction, or should we, as in the past, continue to push for abstinence?

    The latest figures show that about 18 per cent of people still smoke in England. That number has fallen in the past 10 years from 24 per cent. But what’s concerning is that the number of people who have tried to quit in the past year has fallen from 42 per cent a decade ago to just 31 per cent. Fewer people are smoking, but of that number fewer people are trying to give up. So we’re left with a hardcore group of smokers. Is telling them to quit the answer? If we can move them on to alternative sources of nicotine, isn’t that better?

    To try and find the answers to these questions I spoke to: Professor Clare Gerada, the former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners; Dr Roger Henderson, a GP in Shropshire who writes regularly for Spectator Health; Professor Dinesh Bhugra, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and president of the World Psychiatric Association; and Moira Gilchrist, director of scientific engagement at Philip Morris.

    Dr Max Pemberton is the editor of Spectator Health.