Study suggests 'lack of awareness' stops doctors recommending e-cigarettes

Tuesday, 06 November 2018

Health and life science research at Oxford Brookes

More than one in four medics are reluctant to recommend e-cigarettes to smokers, despite them being given the nod by health officials, a new survey suggests.

Researchers said that health workers need more smoking cessation training and there needs to be better local resource to help doctors guide their patients.

E-cigarettes are now the most popular intervention for smoking cessation in the UK. However, little is known about health professionals' knowledge and attitude towards e-cigarettes and whether they are endorsing use of e-cigarettes with cancer patients

Dr Jo Brett, Senior Research Fellow

The comments come after a poll of 500 UK medics including GPs, cancer doctors and nurses found that 29% said they would not recommend e-cigarettes to cancer patients who smoke. This is despite Public Health England previously backing the devices, saying they are a useful aid for quitting.

The new survey, presented to the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference in Glasgow, also found that more than half of those surveyed said they did not know enough about e-cigarettes to make recommendations to patients.

A quarter did not know whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than smoking.

Meanwhile 46% said their hospital or clinic did not have guidance on what advice they should give to patients about the use of e-cigarettes, with a further 45% saying they did not know if guidance existed.

Dr Jo Brett, Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University, said: "Smoking is a well-established risk factor for many common cancers. It is the single biggest avoidable cause of cancer in the world.

"Problems caused by smoking continue after a cancer diagnosis. It increases the risk of treatment complications, cancer recurrence and the development of a second primary tumour, leading to an increased risk of death. So it's vital that these patients are encouraged to stop smoking.

"E-cigarettes are now the most popular intervention for smoking cessation in the UK. However, little is known about health professionals' knowledge and attitude towards e-cigarettes and whether they are endorsing use of e-cigarettes with cancer patients.

"These results suggest that there's a lack of clear policy on e-cigarettes at the local level.

"They also suggest a lack of awareness of existing evidence and national policy on e-cigarettes among doctors and nurses. This is coupled with a lack of time and inadequate training on smoking cessation in general, and specifically on e-cigarettes.

"Giving patients a clear message that they can reduce harm by switching from smoking to using e-cigarettes may help them cut down or quit smoking tobacco. This could help patients by reducing the risk of cancer recurrence, a second primary cancer or other complications."

Martin Dockrell, Public Health England's tobacco control lead, said: "E-cigarettes aren't risk free but they are far less harmful than tobacco and it's important for healthcare professionals to talk to patients about this.

"That's why as part of our NHS Smokefree campaign, we're encouraging professionals to take free, online courses offered by the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training."

Further information on the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences can be found on the Oxford Brookes website. Dr Brett’s profile page is available to read online.