Government supports vaping with 'swap to stop' scheme

Health Minister, Neil O’Brien, has announced plans for a world-first ‘swap to stop’ scheme encouraging smokers to make the switch to vaping by providing starter vape kits and behavioural support.

This campaign, along with offering financial incentives to pregnant women who quit smoking, are hoped to deliver on the Government's aim to help more adults to quit smoking, and to utilise vaping as a tool in helping them to quit.

One million smokers will be encouraged to swap to vaping
The pioneering ‘swap to stop’ scheme will encourage one million smokers to make the switch from smoking to vaping with the hopes of not only cutting smoking rates but also improving the health of the nation.

Almost 1 in 5 of all smokers in England will be provided with a free starter vape kit and behavioural support in this world-first national scheme to help adult smokers quit. The largest ‘swap to stop’ pilot programme was conducted in 2018 in Salford and was hugely successful with over 60% of participants who stayed with the programme being smokefree after four weeks. It also highlighted that the proportion of smokers who were willing to try quitting with the help of an e-cigarette was record-breaking at the time.

5.4 million people in England still smoke, and it remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death. It is estimated that up to 2 out of every 3 life-long smokers will die from smoking, and the Government reports that recent data indicates that 1 in 4 deaths from all cancers were caused by smoking.

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities have found vaping to be at least 95% less harmful than smoking, and the recent Cochrane review found e-cigarettes to be more than twice as effective at helping smokers quit than other nicotine replacement therapies.

Announcing the new scheme, Health Minister Neil O’Brien said,

“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.”

This scheme, which local authorities will be invited to take part in later this year, is one of a series of new measures announced by the Health Minister to help achieve the Government’s smokefree 2030 goal, which aims to see smoking rates in England drop to just 5%. These initiatives were informed by the measures proposed in the independent smoking review led by Javed Khan last year.

One of the main benefits of achieving the smokefree 2030 goal is that cutting smoking rates reduces the number of smoking-related illnesses that will need treatment, therefore lessening the pressure on the NHS and helping to cut NHS waiting times. For smokers who quit the risk of heart attack halves after one year, also halving the likelihood that they will end up in a hospital bed.

All pregnant women who smoke to be offered support
Another scheme announced as part of this crackdown on smoking is the introduction of financial incentive being offered to pregnant smokers who quit, following the success of similar local schemes.

This initiative is expected to be offered to all pregnant women who smoke by the end of this year, and will include vouchers along with behavioural support to assist in a stop smoking attempt.

It is hoped that by supporting more women to have a smokefree pregnancy we will see a reduction in the number of smoking-related complications such as babies born underweight or underdeveloped and requiring neonatal and ongoing care. It will also reduce the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and result in more healthy pregnancies.

Crackdown on illicit vapes and underage vaping
The Health Minister has also revealed plans for a new ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ which will be backed by £3 million of government funding with the intention of enforcing the rules on vaping and tackling illegal sales.

The enforcement squad will be led by Trading Standards and will work across the country undertaking projects like test purchasing at convenience stores and vape shops, and will have the power to remove illegal products from shops and at our borders.

This will go hand in hand with a call for evidence to identify opportunities to reduce the number of underage people who are purchasing and using vapes, while ensuring that they remain available as a quit aid for adult smokers.

Neil O’Brien explains,

“Smoking kills, so our priority is to prevent people smoking, and support them to quit. We remain committed to our ambition to be smokefree by 2030.

However, while vaping is a preferable alternative to smoking for adults, we are concerned about the rise in youth vaping, particularly the increasing use of disposable vaping products.
The new illicit vapes enforcement squad will work across the country and clamp down on those businesses who sell vapes to children - which is illegal - and get them hooked on nicotine. Our call for evidence will also allow us to get a firm understanding of the steps we can take to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes.”

IBVTA Chief Executive, Gillian Golden, responded to the announcement by saying,

“We applaud the Minister’s expected announcement. The IBVTA looks forward to continuing to support enforcement agencies in tackling illicit trade and illegal products. They have, for too long, sullied the reputation of legitimate independent vaping businesses. They have also put a very negative spin on the general public’s understanding of our sector.

Vaping is the most popular, effective, and cost-effective tool smokers use to quit. We welcome the Government’s continued recognition of the important role that reputable UK vape businesses play in driving down smoking rates”

When does the ‘swap to stop’ scheme start?
We know that that the ‘swap to stop’ scheme is initially set to run for the next two years, and in some areas it will be commencing very soon.

The Minister has revealed that he is already working with local councils in the North East to start delivery of the scheme in their most deprived neighbourhoods and they are taking a targeted approach and focusing first on the most at-risk communities such as job centres, homeless centres, and social housing providers.

While there is not yet a set date when the ‘swap to stop’ scheme will start, we know that it will be this year and we will update once the information is available.

How do I apply for the ‘swap to stop’ scheme?
At the moment how to apply to the scheme has not been released, however we do know that it will commence by targeting at-risk communities in settings like homeless shelters and job centres, suggesting that smokers using these services will be able to apply for the scheme through these services.

Furthermore, the Health Minister has stated that they want to work closely with retailers as part of the scheme so it is possible that the scheme may become available through selected retailers in the future.

What are the requirements of the scheme?
At the time of writing the only information available about the requirements of the ‘swap to stop’ scheme are as described by Neil O’Brien,

“Smokers who join this scheme which will run initially over the next two years must join on one condition – they commit to quit smoking with support.”

We await further information about the scheme over the coming months to identify who can apply and how they can do so.

Will the ‘swap to stop’ scheme be free?
So far the Health Minister has confirmed that participants in the scheme will be provided with a free vaping starter kit and access to behavioural support. The details of what the free starter vape kit will entail and how long it will last have not yet been revealed, but it is known that participation in the scheme is free.

At a glance
·One million smokers will be provided with a starter vape kit and behavioural support to assist in a stop smoking attempt as part of the ‘swap to stop’ scheme

·All pregnant smokers will be offered financial incentives and behavioural support for quitting smoking

·The Health Minister has revealed plans for a new government funded ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ to crack down on underage vape sales and illicit vaping products