LONDON — Two hospitals in England have allowed an e-cigarette company to open vape shops on their premises as part of a move by the hospitals to ban smoking in and around their buildings.
“Given that simple truth, we can no longer support smoking on our sites, even in shelters or cars,” said Dr. David Carruthers, the medical director of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals N.H.S. Trust, which oversees the hospitals.
Smoking was first banned inside British hospitals in 2007, and health officials have urged in NHS Hospitals to make their premises entirely smoke-free since 2013. Most British hospitals have since banned smoking on their grounds, and the image of patients wheeling their IV drips to outdoor smoking areas has largely disappeared.
Despite the growing prevalence and popularity of vaping around the world, the practice has met with criticism. Saying that e-cigarettes were creating a nicotine epidemic among teenagers, Critics of the products in the United States say they are becoming the tobacco industry’s new way to hook teens.
But in Britain, public health officials have embraced the use of e-cigarettes as effective for people who want to quit smoking. An independent review in 2019 published last year by England’s public health agency concluded that vaping posed “only a small fraction of the risks of smoking” and that switching completely to vaping brought “substantial health benefits.”
“It’s not as radical as it might first appear,” Dr. Debbie Robson, a researcher in tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said of the Birmingham hospitals’ new policy. She said e-cigarettes were allowed in most mental health hospitals in Britain, including indoors.
Dr. Robson said Britain’s public health authorities agreed that switching completely to e-cigarettes was far safer than smoking regular cigarettes, an argument that the independent report also addresses.
Although nicotine fuels addiction to cigarettes, the drug itself is not what causes the gravest health dangers, said Ann McNeill, the public health report’s lead author and a professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London. “The toxic smoke is the culprit and is the overwhelming cause of all the tobacco-related disease and death,” she said in the report.
The report said that regular use of e-cigarettes in the country was almost entirely confined to those who have smoked previously. And the N.H.S. report found a significant drop in smoking rates among young people — down to 6 percent in 2016, compared with close to 20 percent in 2001.
Dr. Robson said that being admitted to a hospital could be a powerful trigger to reflect on smoking. And the hospitals that are most effective in reducing smoking are those that “have a tobacco dependence treatment pathway embedded in the hospital services,” she said, rather than simply banning smoking.