One million smokers in England will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vaping using a free vape ‘starter kit’, the government has announced.

The ‘world-first’ scheme will be announced in a speech today by health minister Neil O’Brien, which will also announce a crackdown on underage and illegal vape sales.

The measures are part of the government’s ambition to be ‘smoke-free’ by 2030 by reducing smoking rates to 5% or less and will also see pregnant women offered £400 to quit.

The vape starter kit will be accompanied by ‘behavioural support’ to help smokers quit, and when local authorities are invited to take up the scheme later this year, they will have the flexibility to decide which populations to target.

This ‘swap to stop’ scheme will be offered to almost one in five smokers in England, and for those who quit, after one year the risk of a heart attack is halved, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The crackdown on underage vape sales is accompanied by a consultation, to be launched today, on how to reduce child vaping, focussing on how vape products are designed, marketed and portrayed on social media.

There will also be £3m of new funding for a specialised ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ which will seek to combat illegal and underage vape sales.

In 2021, 9% of 11 to 15-year-olds used e-cigarettes, up from 6% in 2018, according to NHS Digital figures. 

In the same year, smoking prevalence in England was the lowest on record at 13%, however the DHSC said smoking tobacco remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death, with up to two out of three lifelong smokers dying from smoking.

The ‘swap to stop’ scheme, which will be rolled out widely over the next two years, is part of the government’s smoking cessation measures which ultimately aim to help ease pressure on the NHS by cutting waiting lists.

Minister O’Brien said: ‘Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly.

‘We will offer a million smokers new help to quit. We will be funding a new national “swap to stop” scheme – the first of its kind in the world.

‘We will work with councils and others to offer a million smokers across England a free vaping starter kit.’

In November last year, a Cochrane review concluded that there is strong evidence e-cigarettes are a more effective way to help people quit smoking than nicotine patches or gum.

This article was first published in our sister publication Pulse