The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the government agency responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the United Kingdom to ensure that they work and are acceptably safe, has announced that it will regulate e-cigarettes as medicines from 2016 onwards. This means that electronic cigarettes will have to undergo stringent checks by the medicine regulator before they can be sold on the British market. It also means that physicians will be able to prescribe them to smokers as a quit smoking tool. The new regulations will extend to all nicotine-containing products.
Cigarette smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death in the United Kingdom, killing an estimated 80,000 people annually. Needless to say, this is a major health problem, and reducing the number of smokers is a national health priority.
Jeremy Means from the MHRA said in a press release dated 12 June 2013: “Reducing the harms of smoking to smokers and those around them is a key Government health priority. Our research has shown that existing electronic cigarettes and other nicotine containing products on the market are not good enough to meet this public health priority. Some NCPs are already licensed and the Government’s decision to work towards medicines licensing for all these products is designed to deliver quality products that will support smokers to cut down and to quit. The decision announced today provides a framework that will enable good quality products to be widely available. It’s not about banning products that some people find useful, it’s about making sure that smokers have an effective alternative that they can rely on to meet their needs.”
A number of leading British health figures endorsed the move by the MHRA, including Professor Dame Sally Davies, the United Kingdom Chief Medical Officer, Deborah Arnott, the Chief Officer of the anti-smoking charity ASH, and Dr Clare Gerada, the Chair of the General Council at the Royal College of General Practitioners.
The MHRA advises people to use nicotine-replacement products to quit smoking, and the purpose of the new regulation is to ensure that e-cigarettes meet minimum health and safety standards.
It is estimated that some 1.3 million people use electronic cigarettes in the United Kingdom.
Source: MHRA, “UK moves towards safe and effective electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products”, 12 June 2013, MHRA website.