How to discuss

Electronic cigarettes: a guide for discussions with patients

Colin P Mendelsohn



Electronic cigarettes (ECs) may be an option for smokers who want to quit but who have failed using first-line therapies. GPs can have a role in providing patients with reliable information about ECs, supporting them in a quit attempt and prescribing nicotine solution.

Key Points

  • Electronic cigarettes (ECs) are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid (with or without nicotine) into an aerosol for inhalation and simulate a smoking experience.
  • Studies from Europe and the UK suggest that ECs can help smokers quit or reduce cigarette intake.
  • Evidence and expert opinion suggests that EC use is around 95% safer than tobacco smoking; long-term effects are unknown but are likely to be substantially less than for tobacco smoking.
  • For smokers who have failed to quit with first-line medications such as nicotine replacement therapy, varenicline or bupropion, ECs may offer an alternative quitting technique.
  • ECs may also have a role in tobacco harm reduction as a safer long-term substitute for smokers who are unable to give up nicotine or the smoking ritual.

    Picture credit: © tcsaba/ Model used for illustrative purposes only.