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Vaping: Free e-cigarettes to be handed out in anti-smoking drive

Vaping: Free e-cigarettes to be handed out in anti-smoking drive

One million smokers will be given a free vaping starter kit to encourage them to give up tobacco products.
Pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to stop smoking as part of a package of measures in England unveiled by the government on Tuesday.

A consultation will be launched on compelling cigarette manufacturers to put advice on quitting inside packs.

But charities have warned swapping cigarettes for vapes is "nowhere near sufficient" in tackling addiction.

The government has committed to getting smoking rates in England below 5% by 2030.

The plans also include a crackdown on underage and illicit vape sales.

Almost one in five smokers in England will receive a kit alongside behavioural support, the government said.

In a speech on Tuesday, health minister Neil O'Brien described the free vape policy - dubbed "swap to stop" - as the first of its kind in the world.

"Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking. Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly," he said.

Mr O'Brien also ruled out raising the minimum age for the sale of cigarettes from 18.

Instead, policies will focus on "helping people to quit" rather than imposing bans, he said.

Last year, a major review led Dr Javed Khan called for the minimum age to be increased by one year, every year "until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country".

MPs from the all-party parliamentary group on smocking and health have previously recommended hiking the age of sale to 21.

It is estimated that 9% of women still smoke during pregnancy in England, and the government says local trials indicate that financial incentives and behavioural support can be effective.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it would set out details on how this scheme will work "in due course".

Local authorities are being invited to join the first wave of areas taking part in the free vape policy, before a larger national scheme is rolled out over the next two years.

Officials estimate it will cost around £45m and is set to be funded from the health department's budget, but administered by local authorities.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said the policy announcements are "welcome steps in the right direction".

But she warned the moves are "nowhere near sufficient" as the target date for England becoming "smoke free" by 2030 nears.

She 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."

Sarah MacFadyen, from charity Asthma and Lung UK, said tackling addiction was more complex than just swapping cigarettes for vapes, saying "what smokers need is stop smoking services offering personalised support".

In 2019, ministers pledged to end smoking - defined as getting rates below 5% - by the end of the decade. As of 2021, smoking prevalence in England was 13%, the lowest on record.

But a review of the 2030 target published last year warned it will be missed by at least seven years without further action.

Its author, Dr Khan, called for a range of new measures, including a ban on smoking at outdoor spaces such as beaches and beer gardens.

The same report recommended promoting vaping as an alternative to tobacco, but said e-cigarettes are not a "silver bullet" or "totally risk free".

While the government wants to encourage adult smokers to swap cigarettes for vapes, there are concerns about the rising popularity of the products among children.

NHS figures released last year revealed 9% of secondary school pupils use a vape regularly or occasionally, including almost one in five 15 year olds.

The government announced earlier this week it is setting up a new trading standards enforcement squad to crack down on vapes being sold illegally to under-18s.

A full consultation on how young people can be discouraged from taking up the habit is also being launched on Tuesday.

Other countries are taking different approaches to e-cigarettes and smoking - with many countries banning vaping, including Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Iran, India and Argentina.

According to the Australian government website, it is illegal to possess or use any nicotine vaping products without a prescription from a doctor. It is also illegal to smoke cigarettes and e-cigarettes in enclosed public places such as trains, planes and buses.

Meanwhile, Turkey has banned the sales of e-cigarettes although it is not actually illegal to vape in the country.

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