Vaping: Free e-cigarettes to be handed out in anti-smoking drive

Posted: 11th April 2023

Source: BBC News

One million smokers will be given a free vaping starter kit to encourage them to give up tobacco products.

Pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to stop smoking as part of a package of measures in England to be unveiled by the government on Tuesday.

A consultation will be launched on compelling cigarette manufacturers to put advice on quitting inside packs.

The government has committed to getting smoking rates in England below 5% by 2030.

The plans also include a crackdown on underage and illicit vape sales.

Almost one in five smokers in England will receive a kit alongside behavioural support, the government said.

In a speech on Tuesday, health minister Neil O’Brien is expected to say the free vape policy – dubbed “swap to stop” – is the first of its kind in the world.

“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 will say.

It is estimated that 9% of women still smoke during pregnancy in England, and the government says local trials indicate that financial incentives and behavioural support can be effective.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it would set out details on how this scheme will work “in due course”.

Local authorities are being invited to join the first wave of areas taking part in the free vape policy, before a larger national scheme is rolled out over the next two years.

Officials estimate it will cost around £45 million and is set to be funded from the health department’s budget, but 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.

In 2019, ministers pledged to end smoking – defined as getting rates below 5% – by the end of the decade. As of 2021, smoking prevalence in England was 13%, the lowest on record.

But a review of the 2030 target published last year warned it will be missed by at least seven years without further action.

Its author, Dr Javed Khan, called for a range of new measures, including a ban on smoking at outdoor spaces such as beaches and beer gardens.

He also proposed increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year, “until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country”.

The same report recommended promoting vaping as an alternative to tobacco, but said e-cigarettes are not a “silver bullet” or “totally risk free”.

While the government wants to encourage adult smokers to swap cigarettes for vapes, there are concerns about the rising popularity of the products among children.

NHS figures released last year revealed 9% of secondary school pupils use a vape regularly or occasionally, including almost one in five 15 year olds.

The government announced earlier this week it is setting up a new trading standards enforcement squad to crack down on vapes being sold illegally to under-18s.

A full consultation on how young people can be discouraged from taking up the habit is also being launched on Tuesday.

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