The British government has announced a new “swap to stop” scheme that aims to help one in five smokers exchange cigarettes for vaping kits. The program is part of the Conservative Party’s campaign to reduce smoking rates in the UK, and ministers have described the initiative as a world first. The plan will offer vaping starter kits to approximately one million smokers in England, while pregnant women who quit smoking will receive up to £400.
Despite campaigners welcoming the news, some have expressed concern that the scheme is “nowhere near sufficient” and that further action is required. Experts have also raised concerns that the UK government’s pledge to make the country smoke-free by 2030, which would mean a smoking rate of less than 5%, will be missed without more radical measures.
Health minister Neil O’Brien is expected to launch the new schemes in a speech, where he will emphasize that up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking. Cigarettes are the only consumer product on sale that can kill users when used as directed, he is expected to add.
The initiative will offer smokers across England a free vaping starter kit, with a range of products, flavors, and strengths available to help them find the best fit. The government aims to use funding from the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget to fund the scheme, which is estimated to cost around £45 million over two years.
While officials have not yet determined the details, vouchers are expected to be made available to pregnant women who quit smoking during pregnancy. The vouchers could be worth up to £400 if the women complete the scheme, which would provide both financial and behavioral support.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said that vaping increases smokers’ chances of successfully quitting, and vouchers for pregnant smokers are also helpful. Still, she also noted that these measures are not sufficient, and more needs to be done to reduce smoking rates further.
The new program comes in the wake of a major review led by Dr. Javed Khan, which called for smoking to be banned in outdoor spaces such as beer gardens, cafe pavements, and beaches. The review also stated that vaping should be promoted as a means to help people quit smoking, although it acknowledged that vapes are not a “silver bullet” and not entirely risk-free. Nonetheless, the alternative of smoking is far worse.
Arnott stated that not enough has changed since the review was published and called for more funding to reinstate cuts of over 90% to mass media campaigns. She also said that the tougher regulations recommended by Khan, such as raising the age of sale and reducing the appeal of smoking and vaping, need to be implemented.
In addition to the “swap to stop” program, the UK government has announced plans to crackdown on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to individuals under the age of 18.