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Pregnant smokers to get £400 in vouchers as one million free vape kits made available in new anti-cigarette drive
11 April 2023, 11:15
One million smokers in the England are to receive free vaping "starter kits" and pregnant smokers will be offered shopping vouchers worth up to £400 as part of government's smoke-free nation pledge.
Health minister Neil O'Brien is expected to announce the "swap to stop" scheme today, which will reportedly offer pregnant women who smoke up to £400 in shopping vouchers and provide one in five smokers with a free vaping kit.
Despite expert health warnings about vapes, the plans have been drawn up to encourage the public to swap out the tobacco products for e-cigarettes instead, as well as stop pregnant women from smoking.
Last year, 7.7% of people aged over 16 said they used e-cigarettes and officials have estimated roughly 9% of women still smoke throughout pregnancy.
It is hoped the financial incentive alongside additional support from experts will help put a stop to women smoking during pregnancy altogether.
According to experts, the campaign will see England smoke-free by 2030 – which is qualified when five per cent or less of the public are smoking.
The scheme is expected to cost the Department of Health and Social Care £45 million from its budget over a two-year period.
Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: "Given the pressure the NHS is facing, one does wonder if this is a good use of resources given that a substantial increase in tobacco taxes would be more effective.
"E-cigarettes have only ever been shown to help people quit if they are part of a supervised, time-limited package of behavioural support – and even then they are not especially good.
"We need to focus on plain packaging, a ban on attractive e-liquid flavours, and a halt to advertising of vape products."
It is believed the kits will be available for request from community health centres or stop-smoking services.
Research suggests that in 2017, e-cigarettes helped more than 50,000 smokers in England to quit, as data suggests the number of smokers in the UK reached an all-time low in 2022.
However, the World Health Federation has warned there are many studies casting doubt on using e-cigarettes to quit smoking.
Meanwhile, a review led by Dr Javed Khan last year acknowledged the benefits of e-cigarettes, but also noted they are not a "silver bullet" nor are they "totally risk free".
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said: “Vapes increase smokers’ chances of successfully quitting, as do vouchers for pregnant smokers, so these are welcome steps in the right direction, but they are nowhere near sufficient.”
The health minister is expected to launch the scheme today, alongside a £3 million crackdown on the illicit sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.