After a seemingly promising pilot scheme where smokers were given a vape hardware starter kit to help them stop smoking, the vaping community waited on tenterhooks to see what the result of the pilot would be.
On 11th April 2023, we appeared to receive our answer as the UK government announced that it is rolling out the scheme nationally in what it has called the “stop to swap” scheme, with added incentives to help particularly vulnerable groups to pack in the smoking packets for good.
It is the first national government scheme of its kind in the world, and a fifth of the roughly 5.4m smokers in Britain will receive a starter kit as part of a large package of measures to help make the country smokefree by the year 2030
It is an encouraging show of support for the vape industry, but a lot of proposals were announced at the same time, and it is important to look through not just the headline announcements but also the reasoning behind them.
Stop And Swap
The key component of the scheme is an expansion of an existing pilot scheme that provided starter kits to smokers alongside behavioural support after finding that both psychological intervention and vaping combined had an immensely positive effect towards helping smokers quit for good.
With smoking prevalence in the UK at its lower ever rate of 13 per cent aided by a mix of plain packaging regulations, doubled tax duty on cigarettes and funding local stop-smoking services, stop-to-swap is seen as the missing link to get the remaining smokers to quit.
This measure was a core part of the Khan Report, a review of the government’s tobacco control programmes and offered suggestions for how they could accelerate the push for a smokefree 2030.
One aspect that has been emphasised is the connection to other parts of NHS primary care. It is not a case of simply providing a starter kit as the start and end of the treatment. Instead, the vape is combined with support and a toolkit of measures to help fight the cravings and make it to 28 days smoke-free.
Exactly how the million smokers set to benefit from the scheme will be treated will depend on the local authority, who will be invited to prioritise and design schemes as they see fit.
An addition that was not in the first pilot scheme is the development of an incentive scheme that specifically targets pregnant women to help them to quit quickly, with a value of up to £400.
Whilst it is never safe to smoke, and Health Minister Neil O’Brien noted that cigarettes are one of the few products that will cause a person using them correctly to die, smoking during pregnancy can cause considerable harm to not only the person smoking but also their baby.
The risks of passing the 4000+ harmful chemicals found in cigarettes can cause, amongst many other harmful effects, stillbirth, miscarriage, birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth, an increased risk of cot death and a higher risk of the baby dying in childhood in general.
It can also lead to lifelong health concerns such as asthma, chest infections and childhood psychological issues.
To stop all of this, the government is offering incentives to transition to vaping, which whilst the effects of vaping during pregnancy are still being researched, is far better for mother and child than smoking would be.
The value of the vouchers is worth up to £400 if a pregnant smoker completes the scheme and quits for good, but the details of exactly how these vouchers will work and what they will be good for are yet to be determined.
Illicit Vape Crackdown
It is important to lead with the two parts of the scheme that highlight the positives of vaping because one aspect of the scheme that had the potential to undermine its efficacy is pairing it with a set of strict restrictions on vape sales.
There were concerns that this could lead to a crackdown on flavoured vapes, a move that could potentially undo a lot of the good work that has gone into helping people quit, but this aspect has either been dropped or was not seriously considered to begin with.
Instead, they have kept the better part of the proposal, which is to crack down heavily on shops that sell e-cigarettes illegally to people under the age of 18, much like the rules seen for alcohol and for cigarettes.
This will involve an enforcement squad of officers working for Trading Standards, who much like with cigarette shopping will involve the use of plant customers designed to test their policies and systems.
However, other policies proposed by action groups such as Action on Smoking and Health, such as plain packaging and taxes on disposable vapes, have not been implemented as part of this package of proposals.
Cigarette Quitting Card
In the late 19th century, cigarette manufacturers added collectable cards into cigarette packets to encourage people to buy more packets and collect them all. In 2023, the UK government may be creating cards designed to get them to stop once and for all.
Alongside plain packaging, larger warning labels and graphic imagery that warn users of the long-term catastrophic health effects of smoking, the government is also consulting on adding insert cards with positive affirmations, encouragement and information to help people to quit smoking.
This can seem like something of an odd choice given the profoundly negative tone of the other two main packaging regulations, but there is a logic to the policies if each packaging policy was seen as a different step targeting a different person.
The graphic photographs are designed to stop people from being tempted to smoke via attractive packaging and serves as a somewhat shameful disincentive to not open a packet in a public place for fear of judgement, with a particularly strong effect on young people.
The large warnings are for people with the box in their hand, either tempted to buy or who have already bought and are planning to use them. It gives them pause and makes them reconsider doing something that could ruin their health and the health of those around them.
If the packet is opened after this, a smoker can feel ashamed, so the card is designed to give them a bit of hope that it is not too late and there are steps they can take to make this packet their very last.