The project is going to be led by Dr Sharon Cox who works in UCL’s Department of Behavioural Science & Health and LSBU’s Professor Lynne Dawkins. The pair will be operating with academic partners from:
- 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
The team say that smoking rates within the homeless community far outstrips that found in the general population and cite a figure of 70% using tobacco in some form.
They acknowledge that vaping is currently “the most popular method” smokers use in order to quit and reference studies showing that electronic cigarettes “are more helpful than nicotine gum or patches and much less harmful than smoking tobacco.”
Dr Cox has published a number of papers looking at this issue and previously discovered that with starter kits and juice costing up to and possibly more than £20, the initial price can be a barrier to homeless smokers adopting a reduced harm alternative.
In their project, the team will look to see if supplying kits and e-liquid for free at centres supporting the homelessness can overcome a reluctance to switch to vape product use.
The trial is going to target 32 centres covering five UK regions. Sixteen centres in Scotland, Wales, London, the South-East of England and the East of England will be supplying ecig starter kits. A further 16 centres will be providing their usual quit smoking support. The research team aims to recruit 480 people to take part in the project, dividing them into two groups of 240, which equates to 15 per centre.
“People who experience homelessness have extremely poor health and smoking is a major contributor to this,” said Dr Cox. “This trial could give people who are usually left behind the chance to quit smoking. The English government has an aim to reduce smoking rates to less than 5% by 2030, so this trial is essential in achieving this aim. We are grateful to the funder for their support.”
Professor Dawkins added: “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.”