Homeless people are to be given free e-cigarette starter packs as part of a trial designed to help them quit smoking.
The study will be conducted in 32 centres for the homeless across five regions in the UK – Scotland, Wales, London, the South East and the East of England.
E-cigarette starter kits, which usually cost around £25, will be given for free to people at half of the participating centres.
People at the other centres will be allocated to a care group.
The full £1.7m research trial will include 480 participants, with 240 in each group and 15 from each centre.
Professor Caitlin Notley, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that around 70% of people who are homeless smoke tobacco – this is far higher than the UK average of 14.1%.
“We also know that e-cigarettes are the most popular method of quitting smoking, with some studies suggesting they are more helpful aids than nicotine gum or patches and much less harmful than smoking tobacco.
“Electronic cigarettes mimic the experience of cigarette smoking because they are hand-held and generate a smoke-like vapour when used.
“They can be an attractive option for helping people switch from smoking, even if they have tried and failed in the past.”
The research project is led by London South Bank University (LSBU) and UCL in collaboration with UEA, Kings College London, Queen Mary University of London, the University of York, Cardiff University, the University of Stirling and the University of Edinburgh.
It has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Professor Lynne Dawkins from LSBU 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 on the homeless.”