NHS Shetland is continuing to see patients who find themselves more dependent on vaping than they were on smoking, according to officials.
The issue of e-cigarettes was raised at a meeting of the NHS Shetland board on Tuesday morning as public health and planning principal Elizabeth Robinson highlighted a reduction in the numbers of local people accessing services to help them stop smoking.
A report said that “despite ongoing efforts to engage with patients through primary care we have seen a reduction in numbers accessing services”.
It added that “given our low rates of smoking, those that we do see are often quite complex requiring more intense behavioural support for longer”.
The stop smoking ‘Quit Your Way’ programme was relaunched in September, and the results of this are yet to be seen.
Robinson noted that people were using vaping – or e-cigarettes – as an alternative to smoking, but she confirmed following a question from board member Lisa Ward that there was no way of recording people’s use.
The devices allow people to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke, meaning they do not burn tobacco and do not produce harmful tar or carbon monoxide.
“Nationally vaping is increasing,” Robinson said.
“It should be used as a harm reduction approach, but we continue to see patients who feel they are more dependent on vaping than they were on smoking.”
Nationally NHS guidance is that e-cigarettes are “far less harmful than cigarettes and can help you quit smoking for good”.
The health service said they are “not completely risk free, but they carry a small fraction of the risk of cigarettes”.
They can come in various flavours, and concern has been raised over the allure of sweet vapes, particularly for younger people.
Robinson noted that “we don’t know the long-term effects” of vaping yet.
Board chair Gary Robinson issued a note of concern over the lack of clarity on the impact of e-cigarettes, particularly when cases of health issues were starting to be reported across the world.
“There’s still a big question around the effects of vaping,” he said.
“Is the message it’s better to quit altogether?”
“Absolutely,” Elizabeth Robinson replied.
The public health and planning principal added that the heath board is also looking to work more closely with the Shetland Foodbank and its client base to tackle social issues which could enable people to change their health behaviours.
Robinson said this may include areas like housing, money and employment to operate in a more “holistic” approach.