British researchers want to study how e-cigarettes work to help homeless smokers quit. Using free starter kits and e-liquid, 480 homeless people will take part in a unique study on smoking cessation.
70 per cent of all homeless people in the UK are smokers. This compares to 14 per cent of the general population. Now a research team, supported by the National Institute for Health Research, wants to explore the potential of using e-cigarettes to help homeless people quit smoking.
"Homelessness is often associated with extremely poor health. Smoking is one of the major factors in this." says Sharon Cox, a psychologist and behavioural scientist, who leads the study.
Too expensive to buy an e-cig
E-cigarettes are one of the most popular ways to quit smoking in the UK. Vaping has also been shown to be much more effective than traditional means such as nicotine patches and chewing gum. But a homeless person spending £300 or more on an e-cigarette and accessories is not realistic for someone living on the margins, the researchers say.
Want to compare e-cigarettes with other methods
With the help of some 30 homelessness centres around the country, 480 people will participate in the trial. The researchers are distributing free starter packs to 240 smokers. They will also receive support from staff at the help centre. The same number of people will receive traditional support with information on different stop-smoking methods and advice on nicotine replacement.
"The tactic of distributing free e-cigarettes has proven to work well in the past, when we did preparatory trials. This will be a repeat study but on a larger scale. It is the first study of its kind in the world," said Professor Lynne Dawkins, an addiction researcher at London South East Bank University.
A chance for those who are excluded
According to estimates by the Department of Health, together with the Royal College of Physicians and Cancer Research UK, the risk of tobacco-related harm can be reduced by over 95% for smokers who switch to e-cigarettes. In practice, this is the same as quitting smoking.
"This is a chance to quit smoking for a group in society that is often forgotten. Our government wants to reduce smoking in the population to less than five per cent by 2030, and this study is an important step towards that goal," said Sharon Cox.
Could become standard in the future
Earlier this year, another research team launched a study to distribute free e-cigarettes in emergency departments in the UK.
"If successful, this smoking cessation method could be used in all centres across the country to help the economically disadvantaged quit smoking and improve their health," said Lynne Dawkins in a press release from University College of London.