UCL News


UK-wide e-cigarette trial to help homeless quit smoking

18 June 2021

A trial led by UCL and LSBU researchers will investigate whether e-cigarettes could help people experiencing homelessness to quit smoking.

man smoking an e-cigarette

The project, which has received a £1.7 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is led by Dr Sharon Cox (UCL Behavioural Science & Health) and Professor Lynne Dawkins of LSBU, and is supported by seven other academic partners: 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.

About 70% of people who are homeless smoke tobacco – far higher than the UK average of 14.1%. E-cigarettes are the most popular method used in a smoking quit attempt, with some studies suggesting they are more helpful than nicotine gum or patches and much less harmful than smoking tobacco.

For people on low or no income, however, the price of a starter kit using refillable liquid is as high as £20 upwards. The trial aims to find out whether supplying free e-cigarette starter kits at centres for people experiencing homelessness could help to combat this problem.

The nationwide study will be conducted in 32 centres across five UK regions: Scotland, Wales, London, the South-East of England and the East of England. Sixteen centres will be allocated to the e-cigarette group, while another 16 will be allocated to a usual care group. The full research trial will include 480 participants, with 240 in each group and 15 from each centre.

Dr Sharon Cox said: “People who experience homelessness have extremely poor health and smoking is a major contributor to this. 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 Lynne Dawkins 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 among people who are homeless.”



Media contact

Mark Greaves

T: +44 (0)7990 675947

E: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk