Nearly 400,000 vape kits are set to be sent to smokers in England under the government’s swap-to-stop scheme, our sister title Healthcare Leader has exclusively revealed.

At least four integrated care boards (ICBs) and more than 80 localities have expressed interest in the scheme with 379,562 ‘vape starter kits’ requested as of February 2024, data seen exclusively by Healthcare Leader has shown.

Launched in April 2023, the scheme aims to provide one million smokers with reusable vape kits by March 2025 to help them quit smoking, under the government’s smokefree policies.

The policy will see the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) meet the cost of those starter kits, which will be distributed via local authority stop smoking services.

It comes as questions have been raised both over the effectiveness of vapes as a smoking alternative and as potential gateway to smoking for children.

NHS England maintains that nicotine vaping is ‘substantially less harmful than smoking’ and stands as ‘one of the most effective tools for quitting smoking’, although not harmless.

But data has shown that vapes – especially single-use vapes – have become increasingly popular among young children, with health leaders urging for greater clarity in public health messaging.

As of March 2023, 11.6% of children had experimented with vaping, marking a 50% increase on 2022, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), while 70% of the vapes that children use are single use vapes.

Last month, the government announced it would ban disposable vapes, alongside new powers to restrict flavours specifically marketed to children.

Professor Javed Khan OBE – author of the government-commissioned ‘Khan Review: Making Smoking Obsolete’ – stated that GPs and pharmacists were ‘crying out’ for guidance on whether or not they should recommend vapes to patients who smoke.

Giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Select Committee this month, he said: ‘There is a lack of clarity and information from the DHSC and NHS England. I have met GPs and pharmacists who have said they have never seen any kind of guidance that would encourage them to direct their patients [to use vapes as an alternative to smoking].

‘They need that clarity. If we are convinced that it is safer to do swap-to-stop – with all these kits about to go out – and if we agree with the principle that vaping is a good, quick tool because it has been proven to be relatively successful, then let’s clarify that for all of the health professionals asking for it.’

The inquiry also heard a proposal to subsidise prescriptions for e-cigarettes in an HRT certificate-style scheme.

This article first appeared on our sister publication Healthcare Leader.