UK to give one million smokers free e-cigarettes

Smokers in the UK will be offered vape 'starter kits' in a world-first policy to make England smoke-free. Despite a torrent of evidence on the health risks of vaping, the free kits are set to be offered to almost one in five of all smokers in England.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) has long advised that vaping can help smokers quit – but has never given people the equipment to start doing it.

Vaping devices typically cost around £20 to £30, plus more for replacement cartridges. Critics say vaping is not particularly effective in helping people give up.

But it is the focus of a new crackdown, which will see pregnant women offered up to £400 in vouchers to stop smoking, and a consultation launched on introducing mandatory advice about quitting smoking on cigarette packs.

Government targets

The UK Government is striving to meet its target of being smoke-free by 2030 – which means reducing smoking rates to 5 per cent or less.

Health minister Neil O'Brien, who launched the scheme is expected to say: '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. We will offer a million smokers new help to quit and will be funding a new national "swap to stop" scheme – the first of its kind in the world.'

But 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.'

Starter kits.

The starter kits will offer smokers a choice of products, strengths and flavours, and they will get support to quit tobacco at the same time. It is understood they can be requested from community health centres or stop-smoking services.

More than three million people in England are believed to vape and experts agree the devices are safer than smoking as they contain a liquid form of nicotine that is heated into vapour to be inhaled, avoiding harmful tobacco smoke.

Supporters of vaping point to UK research estimating that in 2017, e-cigarettes helped more than 50,000 smokers in England to quit. But the World Health Federation has warned there are many studies casting doubt on using e-cigarettes to quit smoking.