Government announces new measures to encourage smokers to quit

Latest UK Health & Medical News »

Wednesday 12th April 2023

The government has announced new measures to encourage smokers to quit. As part of a nationwide drive to help smokers to give up, up to a million people will be given a free vaping kit. Pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to quit. The initiatives form part of the government’s commitment to reducing smoker rates in England to below 5% by 2030. Vaping is often recommended as a tool to help smokers to cut down and eventually give up. Vapes contain varying quantities of nicotine but they don’t contain many of the harmful ingredients and chemicals found in cigarettes, such as tar. Smokers can swap smoking for vaping, choosing to start with low-nicotine products or reduce the nicotine quantity gradually. 

The government unveiled plans to bring smoking rates down on Tuesday 11th April, confirming that around 1 million smokers in England will be offered a free starter vaping kit. Although there are concerns about the long-term impact of vaping, most health experts agree that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking. It is important to note that vaping kits will only be provided free of charge for eligible smokers. Vaping is discouraged among non-smokers.

The one million smokers who receive a free starter vaping kit represent around 20% of smokers in England, according to the government. As well as being given the free kit, individuals will also be offered support to help them give up smoking.  Health minister, Neil O’Brien, outlined the new policy, which has been labelled ‘swap to stop,’ explaining that using e-cigarettes could help to reduce smoker numbers and save lives. Smoking kills around two-thirds of long-term smokers. In addition to providing free vaping kits, the government is also offering financial incentives to pregnant women. Data suggests that around 9% of pregnant women in England smoke. A trial undertaken on a local level showed that monetary benefits and behavioural support helped pregnant women to cut down or give up completely. The Department for Health and Social Care will provide more details about measures to support pregnant women who smoke in the coming weeks. 

To start with, local authorities will be invited to participate in the free vaping kit scheme. Within two years, the programme will be rolled out nationally. Health officials have estimated that the initiative will cost around £45 million. Charities and campaign groups have welcomed news of additional programmes and measures to stop smoking but some have called for further action. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said that much more needed to be done to reach the 2030 target. Although research shows that vaping and offering financial incentives can help people to quit smoking, there is still a very long way to go to turn the country into a smokefree zone within the next seven years.

Sarah MacFadyen, from Asthma and Lung UK, said that offering free vaping kits would not tackle smoking addictions and urged the government to fund extra support to help those who find it hard to give up smoking. She called for personalised programmes, which help individuals to understand why they smoke and figure out ways to get through the days without cigarettes. Smoking rates have fallen steadily in the UK and the most recent data shows that the proportion of smokers in 2021 was the lowest on record. Currently, around 13% of the population smokes. Although the figures are moving in the right direction, estimates suggest that based on current trends, the government would miss the 5% target by up to seven years.  The report promotes vaping as an alternative to tobacco products for adult smokers but there are worries about the growing popularity of vaping among teenagers, including those who don’t smoke. NHS data published in 2022 showed that 9% of secondary school pupils and 20% of 15-year-olds vape either regularly or occasionally. 

The government recently confirmed that it was launching a new law enforcement team to clamp down on illegal vaping product sales. UK legislation states that individuals must be aged 18 or over to buy e-cigarettes and e-liquids.