World-first e-cigarette trial to help homeless people quit smoking

A new trial that aims to find out whether e-cigarettes could help people experiencing homelessness to quit smoking has been awarded a £1.7 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Led by London South Bank University (LSBU), the study will be conducted in 32 homelessness centres across Scotland, Wales, London, the South East and the East of England.

Around 70% of people who are homeless smoke tobacco - far higher than the UK average of 14.1%. E-cigarettes are the most popular method used in a smoking quit attempt, with some studies suggesting they are more helpful than nicotine gum or patches and much less harmful than smoking tobacco. For people on low or no income, however, the price of a starter kit using refillable liquid is as high as £20 upwards. LSBU researchers have set up this trial to find out whether supplying free e-cigarette (EC) starter kits at centres for people experiencing homelessness could help to combat this problem.

Sixteen of the homelessness centres will be allocated to the EC group, while another 16 will be allocated to a usual care (UC) group. The full research trial will include 480 participants, with 240 in each group and 15 from each centre.

Professor Lynne Dawkins, professor of nicotine and tobacco studies from the Centre for Addictive Behaviours Research at LSBU’s School of Applied Sciences, said: “In our earlier, smaller research trial, we found that e-cigarette starter kits worked well for participants. Staff at homeless centres were able to support the study and we collected the data we needed to conduct a full trial.

“This grant award from the National Institute for Health Research will fund a much-needed larger trial, looking at whether supplying e-cigarettes to smokers attending homeless centres could help them to quit - and whether it offers them value for money. This is the first study of its kind in the world to look at trialling this method.

“If we find that providing free e-cigarette starter kits helps people to quit, homeless centres could decide to adopt this approach in future, to help reduce the impact of smoking-related diseases among people who are homeless.”

The study is supported by seven other academic research partners: King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London, the University of East Anglia, the University of York, Cardiff University, the University of Stirling and the University of Edinburgh.

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