A million smokers across England will be offered free vaping starter kits to encourage them to quit smoking, the Government has announced.
Neil O’Brien, the Public Health Minister, announced a fresh package of measures on Tuesday aimed at helping people give up smoking and stopping children from becoming hooked on addictive vaping products.
One in five smokers in the country will be offered a free vape kit under the Government’s new “swap to stop” scheme aimed at making England smoke-free by 2030.
Mr O’Brien said the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) will provide updated details of when the programme will start and how people will obtain the free kits “in due course”.
Ministers are understood to be considering sending the kits via the post and making them available through pharmacies and pop-up centres.
Mr O’Brien said the project represented an “exciting opportunity to capitalise on the potential of vaping as a tool to help smokers quit”, with research showing that smokers who use a vape every day are three times more likely to quit smoking.
The national scheme will run for two years initially, and will build off local swap-to-stop pilot schemes in Bath, Southampton, Sheffield, and Plymouth. Local authorities will be invited to take part in the scheme later this year and decide which demographics to prioritise.
Smokers that successfully switch to vaping will later be offered advice on quitting e-cigarettes and becoming totally nicotine-free.
Pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to give up cigarettes as part of the Government’s new anti-smoking drive. It will see all expectant mothers who smoke offered vouchers from next year if they give up smoking, alongside behavioural support.
The Government will also consult on forcing tobacco firms to include inserts into all cigarette packets containing “positive messages” and information to help people to quit smoking.
Mr O’Brien said the “evidence-based” measures would help make it “as easy as possible” for people to give up smoking.
“Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking. Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly,” he said during a speech hosted by right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange.
The Public Health Minister also announced that the Government will create a “specialised flying squad” to crack down on shops selling vapes to children and sales of counterfeit tobacco products.
It comes after i revealed in February the Government was considering a range of options to prevent the rise of adolescents taking up the habit amid growing concerns that the number of under-18s vaping has nearly doubled in two years.
The new “flying squad”, which will receive £3m of taxpayer funding, will deploy mystery shoppers to convenience stores and vape shops across the country to clamp down on those illegally selling vaping products to under-18s.
It will also trace the sale of fake tobacco and cigarettes across the supply chain “to remove illegal products from shelves and at our borders”, Mr O’Brien said.
The minister defended the Government’s attempts to discourage young people from taking up vaping while driving up its usage among adults, saying vaping “is effectively a double-edged sword”.
“On the one hand, we do not want children to develop an addiction to any substance at a young age,” he said.
“But on the other hand for adults, vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking and we now have high-quality evidence from Oxford University that compared to nicotine gum or patches vapes are significantly more effective as a quit tool, but not more hazardous.”
According to the NHS website, vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking cigarettes but the long-term dangers of vaping are not yet clear.
A study by King’s College London last year for the Department of Health found that 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 since it is not free from risk and researchers were particularly concerned at the dangers of children taking up the habit.
The new measures announced by the Government on Tuesday come amid rising concern over youth vaping in Britain, with the latest survey by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) showing a rise in recent years.
In 2022, 7 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds surveyed said they used vapes, compared with 3.3 per cent in 2021.
Mr O’Brien said on Tuesday that the new measures formed part of stepped-up efforts by the Government to stop children becoming addicted to vaping, adding: “My message is this: if your business plan relies on getting kids hooked on nicotine, we are coming for you”.
Officials estimate the Government’s new anti-smoking drive, which will largely be funded from the health department’s existing budget, will cost around £45m.
Leading organisations welcomed the move but said they were “nowhere near sufficient” to meet the 2030 target date for England becoming smoke-free, meaning less than five per cent of people smoke.
Shaun Walsh, head of public affairs at Cancer Research UK, said the Government should consider increasing the age of sale for tobacco products, as other countries such as New Zealand have done recently.
“We welcome the steps outlined today, but we need to turn those steps into giant leaps, especially if we want to achieve smoke-free by 2030,” he said.
Mr O’Brien insisted that the Government’s position around smoking would remain one of emphasising people’s “social responsibility”, rather than making dramatic interventions to force people to quit.
He said increasing the age of sale would be “too big a departure from the policy we’ve been pursuing for many decades which is helping people quit”.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of public health charity Ash, said the policy announcements unveiled on Tuesday were “welcome steps in the right direction but nowhere near sufficient”.
She called for other “obvious measures” to be implemented, including taxing disposable vapes to raise their cost to more than “pocket money prices” and introducing plain packaging.