One million smokers are being urged to swap cigarettes for vapes in a new Government scheme aimed at improving the health of the nation and cutting tobacco use.
The world first “swap to stop” scheme, unveiled n Tuesday, will see almost one in five smokers in England provided with a vape starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit.
But will smokers be better off vaping with an e-cigarette, a device that allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapour, rather than lighting up a traditional cigarette?
Here’s what we know about the new scheme so far and the health risks associated with e-cigarettes.
Why is the Government offering free e-cigarettes?
‘Swap to Stop” is part of a series of new measures aimed at meeting the Government’s target of being smoke-free by 2030, reducing smoking rates to five per cent or less.
Making the announcement on Tuesday, Health Minister Neil O’Brien is expected to say: “Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking. We will offer a million smokers new help to quit.
“We will be funding a new national ‘swap to stop’ scheme – the first of its kind in the world. We will work with councils and others to offer a million smokers across England a free vaping starter kit.”
The Government’s three aims are: to help more adults quit smoking; stop children and non-smokers from taking up vaping; and use vaping as a tool for established adult smokers to quit.
As of 2021, smoking prevalence in England was at 13 per cent – the lowest on record. Doubling duty on cigarettes since 2010 and funding for local stop smoking services has helped to cut rates.
However, 5.4 million people in England are estimated to smoke tobacco, which remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death.
Recent data has revealed, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, that one in four deaths from all cancers were estimated to be from smoking.
What does the Swap to Stop Scheme involve?
Almost one in five smokers in England will be offered a vape starter kit and behavioural support to assist them in switching from cigarettes to vapes.
The schemes will be managed by local authorities, who will be invited to take part later this year, each designing one that suits its needs, including deciding which populations to prioritise.
The Government also plans to consult on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts with positive messages and information to help people to quit smoking.
There will be a crackdown on illicit vape sales, as part of measures to stop children and non-smokers taknig up the habit, with the creation of an “illicit vapes enforcement squad” to tackle underage sales.
NHS figures for 2021 revealed nine per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds used e-cigarettes, up from six per cent in 2018.
And by the end of next year, pregnant women will be offered financial incentives to help them stop smoking. This will involve offering vouchers and behavioural support.
It is hoped this will reduce the number of babies born underweight, or underdeveloped with health problems, and reduce the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
What are the health risks of vaping?
Encouraging the exchange of cigarettes for vapes does come with its own risks.
According to the NHS website, vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking cigarettes. However, the long-term dangers of vaping are not yet clear.
E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. But the NHS website says the liquid and vapour contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, just at a much lower level.
A study by King’s College London last year, for the Department of Health, found smokers who switch to vapes will have a substantial reduction in their exposure to toxins that promote cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease.
However, it said people who have never smoked should not take up vaping as it is not free from risks and researchers were particularly concerned at the dangers of children taking it up.
The findings on vaping and smoking were for short and medium term use. The report looked specifically at the risks of vaping versus not vaping at all and found exposure to carcinogen, substances which can cause cancer, was similar or in some cases higher for vaping.
This was true for exposure to the chemicals NNK (NNAL), which have been found to be “powerful pulmonary carcinogens in animals and humans”, the study said.
When it came to toxicants affecting the respiratory system, the risks were similar for vapers and non-vapers.
Lead author Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at King’s, said: “Smoking is uniquely deadly and will kill one in two regular sustained smokers, yet around two thirds of adult smokers who would really benefit from switching to vaping don’t know that vaping is less harmful.
“However, the evidence we reviewed indicates that vaping is very unlikely to be risk-free. So we strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking.”