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Staff in hospital emergency departments will give e-cigarette starter packs to smokers as part of a new research project to help people quit.
The study, which is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, will run over 30 months across five hospitals in England and Scotland.
“Attending the emergency department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking”
Research nurses will take part in the screening and recruitment of patients, while the intervention itself will be delivered by a trained smoking cessation advisor, said those behind the initiative.
The study, which is being run by the Norwich Clinical Trials Unit at the University of East Anglia, aims to start recruiting volunteers in the autumn.
It comes as an updated Cochrane Review of the evidence on vaping last week concluded that nicotine e-cigarettes were more likely to help people stop smoking than nicotine replacement therapy or e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance states that all patients and carers should be encouraged to stop smoking at every point of contact with the NHS.
But in practice that varies, noted Caitlin Notley, professor of addiction sciences at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, and co-lead of the new project.
“Some wards are quite proactive in offering referrals and supplying nicotine replacement therapy but in other settings there is little support available,” she said.
“In emergency departments, smokers should be offered a referral to a community stop smoking service as usual care, but this may not always happen due to pressures on staff time in that setting.”
Professor Notley added: “It is an opportune time to intervene with smokers who may not otherwise consider quitting.”
Emergency departments in England see over 24 million people each year of whom around a quarter are current smokers.
Smokers who agree to take part during their emergency department wait will be randomly assigned to one of two groups.
The first group will receive smoking advice, an e-cigarette starter pack and referral to local stop smoking services.
“In emergency departments, smokers should be offered a referral to a community stop smoking service as usual care”
The second group will only receive written information about locally available stop smoking services. Both groups of patients will be asked if they are still smoking one, three and six months later.
The research team hope to recruit about 1,000 smokers for the trial, which takes place at the following five hospitals: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the Royal London Hospital and Homerton University Hospital in London, Leicester Royal Infirmary, and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
Professor Notley said: “We’ll be looking at the number of people who successfully quit smoking across both groups to see which intervention works best. We’ll also work out how much it would cost to roll the scheme out nationally.”
Trial co-lead Dr Ian Pope, also from the UEA medical school, added: “Attending the emergency department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery.”