GPs' and nurses' perceptions of electronic cigarettes in England: a qualitative interview study

Br J Gen Pract. 2019 Jan;69(678):e8-e14. doi: 10.3399/bjgp18X699821. Epub 2018 Nov 5.


Background: Reports from royal colleges and organisations such as Public Health England suggest that GPs and nurses should advise patients to switch to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) if they do not want to stop smoking using licensed medication. However, there are no data on what practitioners think, feel, or do about e-cigarettes.

Aim: To explore practitioners' perceptions and attitudes towards e-cigarettes, and their experiences of discussing e-cigarettes with patients.

Design and setting: A qualitative interview study was carried out with semi-structured interviews conducted with nurses and GPs across England in 2017.

Method: Participants were interviewed once either via telephone or face to face. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Interviews were conducted with 23 practitioners (eight nurses and 15 GPs). There were three key themes: ambivalence and uncertainty; pragmatism; and responsibility. Many practitioners had uncertainties about the safety and long-term risks of e-cigarettes. Some had ambivalence about their own knowledge and ability to advise on their use, as well as uncertainty about whether to and what to advise patients. Despite this, many sought to provide honesty in consultations by acknowledging these uncertainties about e-cigarettes with patients and taking a pragmatic approach, believing that e-cigarettes were a 'step in the right direction'. Practitioners wanted advice from healthcare regulators such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to reassure them about the safety of e-cigarettes, practical tools to support the consultation, and to control their use by providing behavioural support programmes for reduction or cessation.

Conclusion: Current dissemination strategies for guidelines are not effective in reaching practitioners, who are offering more cautious advice about e-cigarettes than guidelines suggest is reasonable.

Keywords: electronic cigarettes; harm reduction; primary care; smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • England
  • General Practitioners*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Nurses*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Uncertainty
  • Vaping*