SCOTTISH health boards’ policy on the issue of smoking in hospital grounds was thrown into confusion last night after it emerged e-cigarettes could be part of a blanket ban.
Health boards are currently pressing ahead with their efforts to meet a Scottish Government deadline to ensure they have smoke-free facilities, inside and outside hospitals, by March 2015.
At present, e-cigarettes can be used in designated smoking areas such as smoking shelters, and are treated the same as other tobacco products.
However, with smoking shelters to be scrapped next year under new ‘smoke free’ legislation, health boards are in the potentially embarrassing position of banning a product that some studies have shown help people kick the habit.
Previous 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 willpower alone.
ASH Scotland chief executive Sheila Duffy said they 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.
“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 accounts for over 13,000 deaths and around 33,000 hospital admissions in Scotland every year and costs the NHS an estimated £400 million.
In March 2013, the Scottish Government announced its tobacco control strategy – a five-year plan for action across the key themes of health inequalities, prevention, protection and cessation. It includes a requirement for smoke-free hospital grounds by March 2015 across Scotland.
Tom Waterson, Unison branch chair for Lothian, said he was against an outright ban on e-cigarettes as part of the new policy amendments as fewer smokers created a healthier workforce. “Staff should be encouraged to stop smoking and e-cigs are what seems a good way of trying,” he said.
Alison McCallum, Director of Public Health & Health Policy, NHS Lothian, said: “Our current policy on e-cigarettes is the same as in all Scottish health boards and they are not allowed within NHS Lothian facilities.
“Our tobacco policy is under review ahead of the Scottish Government deadline to become smoke-free by March 2015.”
A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde said: “At present, there is a lack of evidence on the safety risks from using e-cigarettes. There is also limited evidence on the effectiveness of using an e-cigarette as a stop smoking aid.”
E-cigarettes are battery-powered vaporisers which contain nicotine and simulate tobacco smoking by producing an aerosol that resembles smoke.