UK wants to pay for your e-cigarettes. Is this a wise move?

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UK wants to pay for your e-cigarettes. Is this a wise move?

There is some science to how it might cut down smoking, but there are great unknowns and unintended consequences

Therese Raphael

The UK has picked its side in the long-running debate about whether e-cigarettes are a wondrous tool for reducing the harm from smoking or a gateway to damaging addiction. Britain now looks likely to become the first country in the world to prescribe vaping for medicinal use — that is, as a way for a tobacco smoker to learn to quit —  and the first to make e-cigarette use taxpayer funded.

The October 29 ruling by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency encourages the licensing of e-cigarette products as medicines. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes would still have to jump through a series of costly regulatory hoops, and the final say on whether the National Health Service offers them rests with Britain’s National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE). But the welcome by health secretary Sajid Javid and other officials makes clear what the government would like to see happen.

It is an experiment that other countries will watch closely and one that seems to prejudge the answer to some key questions. Will prescription vaping have the desired impact on smokers? Will it have any undesirable, unintended consequences? Is it a good use of public funds? There is a danger that, on all three counts, the answers won’t vindicate the decision...

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