Academics from the University of East Anglia claim that thousands more people could give up smoking if hospital emergency departments gave out free vapes.

A UEA research project looked at the impact of giving out vaping starter kits to smokers in A&E in six departments across the country - including the Norfolk and Norwich.

The study saw the smoking habits of two groups of hospital patients followed over a six-month period - 484 of whom were given advice and a vaping starter kit and 488 who were not.

It found that patients who were provided with the kits were 76pc more likely to have packed in smoking within the next six months.

The study, which ran between January and August 2022, was carried out at six hospital emergency departments in the UK - with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital among the participants.

As a result, researchers have said the measure should be considered as it would help health bosses "reach groups of the population who may not routinely engage with stop smoking services but have the most to gain from stopping".

Ian Pope, of the UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: "We believe that if this intervention was widely implemented it could result in more than 22,000 extra people quitting smoking each year.

"Swapping to e-cigarettes could save thousands of lives.

"Attending the emergency department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery from whatever has brought them to hospital."

Eastern Daily Press: Professor Caitlin Notley is an addiction specialist at University of East Anglia  Picture: UEA

Caitlin Notley, who co-led the trial, said: "We know that they are much less harmful than smoking tobacco and that they have been shown to help smokers quit."

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health, said the study's findings were "compelling".