One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a pioneering new ‘swap to stop’ scheme designed to improve the health of the nation and cut smoking rates.
As part of the world-first national scheme, almost 1 in 5 of all smokers in England will be provided with a vape starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit the habit as part of a series of new measures to help the government meet its ambition of being smokefree by 2030 – reducing smoking rates to 5% or less. Local authorities will be invited to take part in the scheme later this year and each will design a scheme which suits its needs, including deciding which populations to prioritise.
In a speech today, Health Minister Neil O’Brien will also announce that following the success of local schemes, pregnant women will be offered financial incentives to help them stop smoking. This will involve offering vouchers, alongside behavioural support, to all pregnant women who smoke by the end of next year.
The government will also consult on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts with positive messages and information to help people to quit smoking.
Additionally, there will be a crackdown on illicit vape sales as part of measures to stop children and non-smokers take up the habit – which is growing in popularity among young people.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien will say: “Up to 2 out of 3 lifelong smokers will die from smoking. Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly. 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 new policies will deliver the government’s 3 aims to help more adults quit smoking, stop children and non-smokers from taking up vaping, and using vaping as a tool for established adult smokers to quit.
For those who quit, the risk of heart attack is halved after one year of quitting, ultimately halving the likelihood of ending up in a hospital bed or worse.
Supporting more women to have a smokefree pregnancy will reduce the number of babies born underweight or underdeveloped with health problems requiring neonatal and ongoing care. It will also reduce the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
Cutting smoking rates reduces the number of smoking-related illnesses needing to be treated, in turn reducing the pressure on the NHS, helping to deliver on our priority to cut NHS waiting lists.
NHS figures for 2021 showed that 9% of 11 to 15 year old children used e-cigarettes, up from 6% in 2018.
In recognition of the sharp increase, Minister O’Brien will launch a call for evidence on youth vaping to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vape products – and explore where government can go further.
Working with enforcement agencies and learning from the government’s work with Trading Standards on illicit tobacco, £3 million of new funding will also be provided to create a specialised ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ to enforce the rules on vaping and tackle illicit vapes and underage sales.
As part of the measures, HMRC and Border Force will also be publishing an updated strategy this year to tackle illicit tobacco. It will lay out strategically how we continue to target, catch and punish those involved in the illicit tobacco market.
Smoking prevalence in England in 2021 was 13% – the lowest on record thanks to measures such as doubling duty on cigarettes since 2010 and continued funding to local stop smoking services.
In 2021 to 2022, £68 million of public health grant funded was spent on stop smoking services by local authorities and nearly 100,000 people quit with the support of a stop smoking service.
In addition, £35 million has been committed to the NHS this year so that all smokers admitted to hospital will be offered NHS-funded tobacco treatment services.
However, 5.4 million people in England smoke tobacco which remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death. Up to 2 out of 3 lifelong smokers will die from smoking and recent data shows 1 in 4 deaths from all cancers were estimated to be from smoking.
Last year an independent smoking review led by Javed Khan proposed a range of measures to help people stub out the addiction, which has informed the measures set out today.