Swap to Stop – UK Scheme Announced with One Million Free Vapes for Smokers

Great news was announced by the UK government in early April 2023 with an encouraging support scheme to help smokers quit for good! The latest scheme titled ‘Swap to Stop’ will offer one million devices to struggling smokers, as well as other financial support incentives and verbal support.

With attempts to quit cold turkey or using nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine gum or patches proving unsuccessful, many have now turned to e-cigarettes. The vaping industry has seen a boom in recent years with more than four million now vaping in the UK while smoking numbers have dropped. So, with these numbers in mind, what else can we expect from the new scheme and government plans?

‘Swap to Stop’ - What is the Plan?
By 2030, the UK government plans to reduce smoking rates to 5% or less. One million smokers will be offered a vape starter kit instead of a cigarette as part of the campaign. In total, it’s expected to cost the Department of Health and Social Care £45 million over two years to fund the scheme.

In addition, for 2023 alone, £35 million will be committed to offering NHS-funded tobacco treatment services. Later local authorities are also invited to take part in Swap to Stop, with the possibility to design their scheme to suit the needs of that area, dedicating more vapes where needed locally.

As of now, the message is clear in their latest press release; two out of three lifelong smokers will die from the habit and the risk of heart attack is much higher with a cigarette than without. With roughly 5.4 million smokers in the UK, the latest scheme recognises that number needs to drop with an active plan. With one in five smokers getting a vape kit, it’s a great start.

Also, the Swap to Stop scheme is targeting helping pregnant women that continue to smoke (roughly one in ten carries on smoking) with the hope that financial incentives (£400) will help some to quit smoking. This includes behavioural support and vouchers offered by the end of 2024.

In addition, plans are in place to consult about introducing mandatory cigarette packs which include positive information and messages to encourage smokers to quit, as well as the smoking kills messages on the front of each package.

Crackdown on Underage Vape Sales
Another aspect of nicotine consumption that the UK government wants to tackle is the use of e-cigarettes by those illegally under the age of 18 years old. This is on the rise with the latest NHS figures from 2021 highlighting that 9% of 11 to 15-year-old children used e-cigarettes, which has increased from 6% in 2018.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien, who announced the whole scheme suggested the government will identify opportunities to reduce the number of children using e-cigarette products and measures to prevent gaining access to them.

A newly created ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ will clamp down on underage sales of vape products with the help of £3 million in funding, led by Trading Standards. The measures they plan to introduce to combat underage vaping include:

·Enforcing rules on vaping to ensure no underage sales
·Share knowledge and intelligence both locally and nationwide
·Test purchasing in stores and vape shops
·Create the necessary guidance to help build regulatory compliance
·Power to remove illegal products from shops and at our UK borders

Next Steps
The government's three key aims are to use vaping as its initially intended tool to help adults quit smoking, and not just those that are established with the habit but also even more that are new to cigarettes. And of equal importance to prevent non-smokers and especially children from vaping in the first place.

As the first scheme of its kind in the world, the UK could be setting a new trend to stop deaths from combustible tobacco via cigarettes. But further work is needed to combat not just the rise of underage vaping, but the threat of smoking as promised in the last tobacco review.