UEA to Hand Out E-cigarettes to Homeless People as Part of Nationwide Research Trial

UEA is handing out e-cigarettes to people experiencing homelessness as part of a nationwide research trial. The trial is currently being led across the UK by London South Bank University (LSBU) and University College London (UCL), alongside the University of East Anglia (UEA) and other renowned universities in England, Scotland, and Wales.

The aim of the trial is to find out whether e-cigarettes could reduce the amount of tobacco smoked by homeless people. Current research from UEA shows that around 70% of homeless people in the UK smoke tobacco, causing serious long-term health impacts and increased mortality amongst this community.

The trial includes 480 people, with 240 of those being offered the e-cigarettes and the other half being offered the usual route of a care group. 32 homeless centres will be a part of the trial, with 15 participants at each one. If the trial is successful and the e-cigarettes help people who are suffering with smoking addiction, homeless centres could start to provide starter packs as a primary tool in working towards the cessation of smoking. The potential findings of this trial could be extremely significant in changing the methods by which smoking among the homeless population is treated.

Professor Caitlin Notley of UEA explains e-cigarettes are “more helpful” than other methods of quitting smoking, such as nicotine gum or patches, because they “mimic the experience of cigarette smoking… and generate a smoke-like vapour when used”. It is also understood from an earlier and smaller research trial, as Professor Lynne Dawkins explained, “staff at homeless centres were able to support the study”. The prior research which has gone into this investigation has made this new and much larger trial possible.

The £1.7 million trial is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as part of an aim by the government to reduce smoking rates to less than 5% by 2030. For reference, smoking rates are currently around 14.1% in the general population. In Norwich, the UEA team will work alongside the NHS Vulnerable Adults Service to put the trial into practice.

A study by Groundswell found the high level of tobacco smoked places homeless people at a much higher risk of COPD, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. Due to their situation, they often do not have the same access to a doctor’s surgery or to ongoing care as somebody who has an address and, therefore, preventative measures to help them quit smoking before they develop respiratory conditions is potentially even more vital than in normal circumstances.

There are many reasons as to why tobacco use is so common among the homeless population, such as poor mental health, peer-group pressure, and a relief for the stress they may be facing. Of course, there are also many reasons why somebody may become homeless in the first place which must not be ignored. However, this trial is a promising look into the ways in which we can help those who are already experiencing homelessness.

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Rachel Keane

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January 2022
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