Nicotine products urged for smokers

Nicotine patches and gum should be prescribed to smokers to try and help them quit, the health watchdog has said.

Previously, smokers could be prescribed nicotine replacement products if they were to go "cold turkey".

But new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) suggests that smokers should be able to use the products to help them kick the habit gradually.

Patches, gum and other licensed products should be used to replace nicotine normally provided by smoking cigarettes, the draft guidance says.

Nice has provisionally recommended the use of nicotine-containing products to support smokers who want to cut down gradually before quitting, those who want to smoke less and those who want to stop smoking for a specific period of time, such as during the working day.

Healthcare professionals should also advise smokers that some nicotine-containing products - such as e-cigarettes - are not currently regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and so their safety and quality cannot be guaranteed. But smokers should be told these products are likely to be less harmful than cigarettes, Nice said.

The guidance also suggests tobacco retailers should display licensed nicotine-containing products in shops and supermarkets.

Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Nice Centre for Public Health Excellence, said: "Smoking tobacco is responsible for over 79,000 deaths in England each year and children's vulnerability to second-hand smoke is well documented. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is the best way to improve health, and quitting in one step is most likely to be successful."

Professor John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians' tobacco advisory group, said: "Smokers smoke for nicotine, and since tobacco smoke is by far the most harmful available source of nicotine, switching to alternatives as a short - or long-term substitute is the obvious healthier choice. We would encourage all smokers to take up the opportunities presented by this guidance, and if they can't quit using nicotine altogether, to switch as much as they can to an alternative nicotine product."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We know that the majority of smokers want to stop, and free local NHS stop smoking services can help them stop for good, particularly as they combine drug replacements such as NRT with counselling. All treatments are provided according to what is best for the client. We will continue to work with Nice and others to make sure our stop smoking programmes are effective and value for money."