Vaping: Free e-cigarettes will be distributed in an anti-smoking campaign

One million smokers will receive complimentary vaping starter kits as an incentive to quit using tobacco products. In England, the government will offer pregnant women up to £400 to quit smoking as part of a package of measures to be unveiled on Tuesday.

A consultation will be conducted regarding requiring cigarette manufacturers to include cessation advice on packs. The government has pledged to reduce the smoking incidence in England to less than 5% by 2030. The plans also include a crackdown on illegal and sales to minors of electronic products. 

The government announced that nearly one in five smokers in England will receive a kit along with behavioral support. Health minister Neil O'Brien is anticipated to state in a speech on Tuesday that the free vape policy, dubbed "swap to stop," is the first of its kind in the world. He will be stating that "Up to two-thirds of lifelong smokers will suffer and die from their habit. Cigarettes are the only product on the market that, if used correctly, will result in death.

In England, it is estimated that 9% of pregnant women continue to smoke, and local trials indicate that financial incentives and behavioral support can be effective. In "due course," the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will explain how this programme will operate.

Local governments are being invited to join the first phase of areas participating in the free vape policy, prior to the rollout of a larger national programme within the next two years. It is expected to cost approximately £45 million and will be funded from the health department's budget, but administered by local governments.

Deborah Arnott, the chief executive officer of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, referred to the policy announcements as "welcome steps in the correct direction." As the target date for England to be "smoke-free" by 2030 approaches, she cautioned the measures are "far from sufficient."

In 2019, ministers vowed to eliminate smoking by the end of the decade, as defined by rates below 5%. The smoking prevalence in England was 13% in 2021, the lowest rate ever recorded. An evaluation of the 2030 goal that was published last year cautioned that without additional action, it will be missed by at least seven years.

Its author, Dr. Javed Khan, advocated a variety of new measures, including a prohibition on smoking in outdoor areas like beaches and beer gardens. In addition, he proposed raising the age of sale from 18 to 21 annually, until no one can purchase tobacco products in this country. The same report recommended advocating vaping as an alternative to smoking, but stated that e-cigarettes are not a "silver bullet" or "risk-free."

While the government seeks to persuade adult smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, there are concerns about the products' rising popularity among minors. Last year, NHS data revealed that 9% of secondary school students use e-cigarettes regularly or occasionally, including nearly one in five 15-year-olds.

The government announced earlier this week that it will establish a new trading standards enforcement division to combat the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to minors. On Tuesday, a comprehensive consultation on how to discourage youth from adopting the habit will also be launched.