The UK government has announced plans to provide one million smokers with free vaping starter kits in an effort to encourage them to quit tobacco products. Pregnant women will also be offered financial incentives of up to £400 to stop smoking. The initiative, called “swap to stop,” is being hailed as the first of its kind in the world. The government aims to reduce smoking rates in England to below 5% by 2030.
Health minister Neil O’Brien emphasized that cigarettes are the only product that can kill users when used correctly, with up to two out of three lifelong smokers dying from smoking-related illnesses. However, charities have expressed concerns that swapping cigarettes for vapes may not be sufficient to tackle addiction.
The government also plans to launch a consultation on requiring cigarette manufacturers to include advice on quitting inside cigarette packs. Additionally, there will be a crackdown on underage and illicit vape sales. While some have called for raising the minimum age for cigarette sales from 18, O’Brien stated that the focus will be on helping people quit rather than imposing bans.
It is estimated that 9% of pregnant women in England still smoke, and local trials have shown that financial incentives and behavioral support can be effective in helping them quit. The Department of Health and Social Care will provide further details on how the incentive scheme for pregnant women will work in due course.
The “swap to stop” initiative will be rolled out in waves, with local authorities invited to participate in the first wave before a national scheme is implemented over the next two years. The estimated cost of the program is £45 million, to be funded from the health department’s budget and administered by local authorities.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said the policy announcements are “welcome steps in the right direction”.
But she warned the moves are “nowhere near sufficient” as the target date for England becoming “smoke free” by 2030 nears.
She said: “Vapes increase smokers’ chances of successfully quitting, as do vouchers for pregnant smokers, so these are welcome steps in the right direction, but they are nowhere near sufficient.”
Sarah MacFadyen, from charity Asthma and Lung UK, said tackling addiction was more complex than just swapping cigarettes for vapes, saying “what smokers need is stop smoking services offering personalised support”.