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April 11, 2023
3 min to read

UK Will Give Away 1 Million Free Vapes, Crack Down on Youth Vaping

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Jim McDonald

The United Kingdom will offer free vapes to one million smokers in England—the first time such a plan has been tried nationally. The quit-smoking scheme was announced today in a speech by British Health Minister Neil O’Brien.

People who want to quit smoking will be given free vape starter kits, along with behavioral support. Such “swap to stop” programs have been proven effective in local trials. The national campaign will begin in what O’Brien called “deprived neighbourhoods,” and will focus on “settings such as job centres, homeless centres, and social housing providers.” The plan also includes financial incentives for pregnant women who quit smoking.

The measures are part of the government's plan to reach “smokefree” status by 2030. “Smokefree” is defined as a population smoking prevalence of five percent or less. The government says 5.4 million English residents currently smoke.

O’Brien said that vaping is proven to help people quit smoking, noting that research shows that “smokers who use a vape every day are three times more likely to quit smoking, interestingly, even if they didn’t actually intend to quit smoking.”

Such misinformation about, for example, ‘popcorn lung’, is difficult to counter because it is endless, but if the NHS is handing out vapes to pregnant women it has an important signalling effect, not just in the U.K. but around the world. 5/

— Christopher Snowdon 🇺🇦 (@cjsnowdon) April 11, 2023

However, for a health minister that recognizes the benefits of encouraging vaping, O’Brien’s speech was certainly heavy on the negatives. He obviously didn’t believe he could tout vaping—even as a quit-smoking tactic in the famously vape-positive UK—without also nodding to critics calling for restrictions on vape product variety and availability.

Along with the smoking cessation plan, the government will launch beefed-up enforcement measures to discourage youth vaping, including the creation of “flying squads” that will target retailers selling to underage customers. The enforcement plan will also focus on imports of illicit products, with additional funding allocated to customs and border agencies.

O’Brien also announced a public consultation on youth vaping, asking for evidence on a variety of topics, including product appearance and characteristics, how marketing may attract children, the role of social media in vaping uptake, and environmental impacts of vaping with an emphasis on disposable vapes. The consultation will be open for the next eight weeks.

Also importantly the amount of young people that have not previously smoked that vape at least once per week is still relatively low at 1.7%. A fact that ASH U.K. admit is primarily in line with what they would classify as normal teen experimentation.

— John Dunne (@Jdunne9407uk) April 11, 2023

In his speech, O’Brien sounded like someone already convinced that “disposable vapes marketed to kids with bright colours, or low prices, or cartoon characters or child-friendly flavours” is a major issue, rather than someone seeking evidence. The minister also called out Elf Bar by name, citing that company’s recent compliance issues.

British vaping organizations reacted to the announcements with general optimism. Consumer association the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) lauded the “sensible” enforcement measures, while urging caution. The consultation, said NNA, “gives advocates an opportunity to advance our own ideas on how to tackle underage sales which do not reduce appeal and access for adults who currently smoke.”

“We hope that the government will use the consultation process to identify other enlightened measures for helping people to quit smoking," NNA added, "rather than resorting to heavy-handed bans and restrictions which are often counterproductive."

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Jim McDonald

Vaping since: 12 years

Favorite products:

Favorite flavors: RY4-style tobaccos, fruits

Expertise in: Political and legal challenges, tobacco control haters, moral panics

Jim McDonald

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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