The United Kingdom will offer free vapes to one million smokers in England—the first time such a plan has been tried nationally. The quit-smoking scheme was announced today in a speech by British Health Minister Neil O’Brien.
People who want to quit smoking will be given free vape starter kits, along with behavioral support. Such “swap to stop” programs have been proven effective in local trials. The national campaign will begin in what O’Brien called “deprived neighbourhoods,” and will focus on “settings such as job centres, homeless centres, and social housing providers.” The plan also includes financial incentives for pregnant women who quit smoking.
The measures are part of the government’s plan to reach “smokefree” status by 2030. “Smokefree” is defined as a population smoking prevalence of five percent or less. The government says 5.4 million English residents currently smoke.
O’Brien said that vaping is proven to help people quit smoking, noting that research shows that “smokers who use a vape every day are three times more likely to quit smoking, interestingly, even if they didn’t actually intend to quit smoking.”
However, for a health minister that recognizes the benefits of encouraging vaping, O’Brien’s speech was certainly heavy on the negatives. He obviously didn’t believe he could tout vaping—even as a quit-smoking tactic in the famously vape-positive UK—without also nodding to critics calling for restrictions on vape product variety and availability.
Along with the smoking cessation plan, the government will launch beefed-up enforcement measures to discourage youth vaping, including the creation of “flying squads” that will target retailers selling to underage customers. The enforcement plan will also focus on imports of illicit products, with additional funding allocated to customs and border agencies.