Vape starter kits to be offered to one million smokers in new ‘swap to stop’ scheme

Pregnant women will be offered up to £400 to quit smoking as part of bid to make UK ‘smoke free’

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One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a new “swap to stop” scheme to make the nation “smoke free”.

Almost one in five of all smokers in England will be offered vape starter kits as part of the push, which is described by ministers as a world first.

Smokers will have a choice of strengths and flavours to find the best product for them, Health minister Neil O’Brien will announce in a speech on Tuesday (11 April).

He is expected to say: “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.

“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.”

One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a new scheme (Photo: Adobe)One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a new scheme (Photo: Adobe)
One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a new scheme (Photo: Adobe)

Pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to stop smoking as 9% of mums-to-be still smoke during pregnancy in England, according to officials. It is hoped that a financial incentive, alongside behavioural support, will help more women to quit the habit by the end of the year.

Details are still yet to be determined, but it is expected that vouchers will be made available to women throughout their pregnancy which could total up to £400 if they complete the scheme.

Additionally, a consultation will be launched on introducing mandatory advice on quitting smoking to be placed in cigarette packs.

Funding for the stop to swap scheme – estimated by officials to cost around £45 million over two years – will come from the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget.

The measures have been welcomed by campaigners as “steps in the right direction”, but they argue it is still “nowhere near sufficient”. It is widely expected that the pledge to get the UK smoke free by 2030 - equating to getting smoking rates to less than 5% - to be missed unless further action is taken.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, 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.”

Last year, a major review led by Dr Javed Khan said smoking should be banned in outdoor spaces such as beer gardens, cafe pavements and beaches. It also said vaping should be promoted as a means to help people stop using tobacco. But Dr Khan acknowledged that vapes are not a “silver bullet”, nor are they “totally risk free”, although the alternative of smoking was said to be far worse.

Ms Arnott said “not enough has changed” since the report was published and said funding is “desperately needed to reinstate cuts of more than 90% to mass media campaigns”.

She added: “Not to mention the absence of the tougher regulations Khan recommended to raise the age of sale, and reduce the appeal of smoking as well as vaping.”

Sarah MacFadyen from lung charity Asthma + Lung said “vaping isn’t going to work for everyone” and that smokers need “stop-smoking services offering personalised support, funded properly through a tobacco industry levy”.

The latest announcement comes on top of plans to crack down on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.