So what do you think about e-cigarettes?

P3 columnist Noel Wicks decides his stance on e-cigarettes, but what does everyone else think?

There are products that sometimes come along and totally redefine the marketplace. A good example of this would be the iPhone, the smartphone developed for consumers rather than business users. In the first five years after it was launched Apple sold more than 250 million units and generated revenues of $150 billion. In contrast Nokia, Sony and Blackberry all took a massive tumble in sales. The market, you could argue, very firmly decided the choice of business versus consumer for them.

I feel that we are undergoing our own marketplace redefinition with e-cigarettes, the debate over which has heated up of late. Of course, it’s not just that Boots has decided to sell an e-cigarette that has got people talking. As we watch e-cigarettes continue to grow in popularity and public acceptance, this was bound to be a professional itch that needed scratching at some point.

The proliferation of e-cigarettes is turning not just nicotine replacement, but smoking as a whole, on its head. The idea that people could start and continue the consumption of an addictive substance that may (or may not) be being consumed in a safe way may be abhorrent to you. But let’s set down that coffee mug for a moment (how many cups is that today by the way?) and think about this.

Ideally, a world without tobacco would probably be a healthier place – but that’s not the reality we live in. If an alternative method of delivering nicotine exists and it is (or is more than likely to be) safer than smoking tobacco, then surely that’s a good thing.

The proliferation of e-cigarettes is turning not just nicotine replacement, but smoking as a whole, on its head

Of course, I appreciate we can already offer medical products that can deliver nicotine in a safe and proven way. However, I would suggest that you speak to smokers, especially those intending on continuing taking in nicotine, because many don’t want what we are offering. I guess it’s a bit like the phone analogy. Yes, you could have a Blackberry that does many things that an iPhone does, but there’s a problem. It’s not an iPhone!

Analogies aside, it’s time for pharmacists to ‘man up’ and take a stance on this issue. I say pharmacists because I don’t think that we should leave this sort of decision to people round a table hundreds of miles away, who may or may not have availed themselves of the pertinent information. It comes down to you and your judgement: about how the product might suit a person, but also about the quality of the product itself. Admittedly, the latter may be easier said than done at the moment, as manufacturers of these products don’t seem to have made a good fist of showing pharmacy their quality and safety credentials. In the meantime, let’s start to weigh the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes and what place they may have in our pharmacies.

So, I say it’s over to you on this one. As for me? Well I am looking at installing a dozen or so USB sockets in the waiting area, so people can recharge their e-cigarettes while they wait for a prescription. Just kidding...

Noel Wicks is an independent pharmacist.