Switch to vapes, heated tobacco to ease pressure on hospitals—UK study


A substantial transition of smokers from traditional cigarettes to reduced risk products (RRPs) such as vapes and heated tobacco will help ease the burden on the public health system, according to a UK study.

“Embracing the transition to RRPs would not only save the NHS (National Health Service) millions of pounds, but it would present a crucial opportunity for us to regain momentum and align with our ambitious 2030 plan,” says Brunel University London Prof. Francesco Moscone.

Prof. Moscone, a business economics expert, is the author of the study “Does Switching to Reduced Risk Products Free up Hospital Resources? A Reflection using English Regional Data”.

The study shows that a switch to vapes and heated tobacco products will lessen smokers’ exposure to smoke-related chemicals that cause diseases.

“Cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the five main disease categories caused by smoking cigarettes. Such illnesses put significant burdens on the NHS, which we know is already under increasing pressure,” says Prof. Moscone.

“By embracing innovation and recognizing the potential of RRPs, we can chart a course towards a future with reduced risks while remaining resolute in our commitment to achieving our goals,” he says.

The study, published in the British Journal of Healthcare Management, estimates that a traditional smoker transitioning to RRPs would have a 70-percent reduction in smoking-related diseases based on the fact that they would no longer be exposed to the harmful chemicals in traditional cigarettes.

It demonstrates that smokers switching to smoke-free alternatives can considerably reduce healthcare costs in England. The study aims to assess the potential savings for the NHS if some of England’s smokers converted to RRPs.

Tobacco harm reduction advocates in the Philippines welcomed the results of the study, saying this would help the overburdened public health system in the country. “The study only shows that smoke-free alternatives such as vapor products, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products can help reduce harm from smoking and subsequently the cost of medical treatment for preventable diseases. This will also free up hospital resources for non-smoking patients,” said Dr. Lorenzo Mata, president of the advocacy group Quit for Good.

“Hospitalization costs a fortune in the Philippines. The results of the study by Prof. Moscone confirm what we have been saying all along. By switching to less harmful and smoke-free alternatives, Filipino smokers will spare their families from going back and forth to hospitals for the treatment of serious smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD,” said Dr. Mata.

Globally, it is estimated that there are still more than a billion people who smoke, with the direct and indirect costs of smoking-related diseases amounting to $2 trillion annually. In England, smoking is still considered the single biggest cause of preventable illness and premature deaths.

Despite the numerous scientific evidence concluding that smoke-free products are significantly better than cigarettes, the World Health Organization’s Framework Conventional on Tobacco Control which will hold its 10th Conference of the Parties in November continues to advocate for restrictive policies on smoke-free products as were imposed on cigarettes.

Smoking accounts for about 74,600 deaths a year in England, and between 2019 and 2020, there were 506,100 smoking-related admissions to hospitals. The cost of smoking to the NHS in England reached £2.5 billion a year.

While the long-term effects of vapes and heated tobacco products are still unknown, previous studies show that alternatives to traditional cigarettes result in a 90-percent reduction in the exposure to chemicals that are major contributors to health risks.

“Under a 50 percent conversion scenario, with half of smokers turning to RRPs, the NHS would save an estimated £518 million in an average year. If the conversion rate was just 10 percent, the NHS would save £103 million,” says Prof. Moscone.

“If smokers transitioned to RRPs, it would significantly reduce the pressure on the NHS and free up much-needed hospital resources for other treatments,” he says.

The study considered geographical differences, with the number of people with lung cancer in the North East & Yorkshire region almost double the number in other English regions. Prof. Moscone says the region is facing significant smoke-related health challenges, with lung cancer treatment alone costing the NHS more than £156 million a year, and would therefore see the biggest reduction in savings if smokers switched to RRPs.

“If 10 percent of smokers in the North East & Yorkshire switched to RRPs, the total expenditure savings for the NHS would be £30 million. If half of smokers in the region made the switch, the NHS would save £148 million,” he says.

England announced an ambition in 2019 to become “smoke-free” by 2030, with smokers either quitting tobacco or switching to e-cigarette or vaping product.

The government reported last year that without further action, England would miss the smoke-free 2030 target by at least 7 years, and those in the poorest areas in society would not meet the target until 2044.

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