NEARLY one in three health professionals would not recommend e-cigarettes to cancer patients who already smoke, despite official guidelines that they are much less harmful than tobacco.

Research which will be presented in Glasgow today found that many doctors and nurses were reluctant to urge their patients to switch to the electronic 'vaping' devices as a way of stopping smoking or reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals.

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Health bodies, including NHS Health Scotland and the Royal College of Physicians, have backed the use of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes

However, a survey of 506 health professionals across the UK found that 29% would not endorse e-cigarettes to cancer patients who smoke. The poll included 103 GPs, 102 oncologists, 100 cancer surgeons, 103 practice nurses and 99 cancer nurse specialists.

Dr Jo Brett, a senior research fellow in the faculty of health and life sciences at Oxford Brookes University, will present the study at the 2018 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference.

Dr Brett said: “Smoking is a well-established risk factor for many common cancers. It is the single biggest avoidable cause of cancer in the world.

“Problems caused by smoking continue after a cancer diagnosis. It increases the risk of treatment complications, cancer recurrence and the development of a second primary tumour, leading to an increased risk of death. So it’s vital that these patients are encouraged to stop smoking.”

Read more: E-cigarettes 'definitely less harmful' than smoking, say health bodies 

Vaping has become a popular smoking cessation tool since it provides smokers with a nicotine fix, without the high doses of some of the carcinogens associated with tobacco. However, smokers of electronic cigarettes will inhale small amounts of various chemicals, including lead and formaldehyde, which can be harmful.

There have also been calls for fruit and confectionary-inspired flavourings, such strawberry, bubblegum, and chocolate, to be banned amid fears it encourages children and teenagers to take up vaping. However, evidence that e-cigarettes are being adopted by youngsters has been contradictory to date.

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Today's study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK, also found that a quarter of respondents did not know whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than smoking. Nearly half (46%) said their hospital or clinic did not have guidance on what advice they should give to patients about the use of e-cigarettes.

Dr Brett said the results pointed to a lack of awareness among doctors and nurses of existing national policy.

She added: “Giving patients a clear message that they can reduce harm by switching from smoking to using e-cigarettes may help them cut down or quit smoking tobacco. This could help patients by reducing the risk of cancer recurrence, a second primary cancer or other complications.”

In September 2017, NHS Health Scotland issued official guidance for the first time stating the e-cigarettes were "definitely" less harmful than smoking tobacco and should be encouraged to aid smoking cessation.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert based at Edinburgh University and a member of the NCRI Cancer Conference Scientific Committee, said: “Although we have evidence to show that e-cigarettes are a substantially less harmful alternative to smoking tobacco for cancer patients, this survey highlights that not all health professionals know this.

"They are unsure how to talk to cancer patients who smoke about e-cigarettes. It also suggests that doctors and nurses need better information and clearer policies to guide their discussions with patients.”