Giving out free vapes to smokers in emergency departments, along with advice on giving up cigarettes, could help thousands more people quit each year, a study has suggested.

The opportunistic approach could be helpful to people who are less likely to engage with stop smoking services, researchers said.

Academics from the University of East Anglia (UEA) conducted the trial between January and August 2022 in six emergency departments in the UK.

Bolton has recently been named as a top 'vaping capital' in a new UK study as the government announced plans to ban the sale of single use vapes.

The borough has 41 registered vape shops in total serving its 202,369 residents.

Last September, a meeting of Bolton Council heard child addicts as young as 13 are ‘unable to go an hour’ at school without vaping.

They heard St Joseph’s high school in Horwich installed vape sensors to address the crisis.

But the use of vapes can be useful in helping people quit smoking.

Academics from the University of East Anglia visited some 484 patients who smoked and offered brief advice from a dedicated stop smoking adviser while awaiting discharge, along with an e-cigarette starter kit and referral to stop smoking services.

A second group of 488 patients was given written information on how to access stop smoking services, but were not referred directly.

Smoking habits were assessed six months later, with researchers offering members of the study a carbon monoxide test to confirm if they had given up cigarettes.

It was found that those referred to services and offered vape kits were 76% more likely to have given up compared to the other group, with 7.2% quitting smoking at six months compared to 4.1%.

They were also more likely to attempt to quit, according to the study.

Self-reported seven-day abstinence from smoking at six months was a little over 23% in the group offered more advice compared to 13% in the group signposted to services.

Researchers said that providing smoking cessation support in emergency departments should be considered to “reach groups of the population that may not routinely engage with stop smoking services but have the most to gain from stopping smoking”.

Dr Ian Pope, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, added: “Swapping to e-cigarettes could save thousands of lives.

“We believe that if this intervention was widely implemented it could result in more than 22,000 extra people quitting smoking each year.”

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Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said the findings “are compelling” and should be “carefully considered by those in the NHS and local government who are planning services for smokers”.

“This type of low-cost offer of support combined with an e-cigarette and located where smokers are accessing existing care is exactly what we need to make rapid progress in our efforts to reduce smoking, particularly for disadvantaged groups,” she added.

The findings of the study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), have been published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.