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UK to Push Vaping: Wants Smokers to Switch

UK Vaping
Written by Sarah Friedman

The UK recently announced plans to push vaping in a ‘swap to stop’ program, meant to reduce overall smoking rates

While the US continues to go after Juul for providing a non-smoking way to get nicotine, the UK is a huge step ahead. After an independent advisory put out a report last year which confirmed that vaping is a much healthier option than smoking, the government of the UK is now instituting measures to get smokers to switch to vaping.

UK Vaping: what was the report about?

On June 19th of 2022, the UK published an independent report which had been commissioned by health secretary, Sajid Javid. The main purpose of the review, is to better enable the government to tackle the issue of smoking in the UK; which has a goal to be smoke-free by 2030 (down to 5% or below). Led by Dr Javed Khan OBE, the review looked to identify more ways in which the UK government could help smokers kick the habit, with the hope of residents leading more healthy lives.

The report made 15 recommendations. These points cover different aspects of the issue including increasing money for cessation programs, yearly raising the smoking age until its no longer legal for any age (similar to New Zealand), licensing requirements for tobacco providers, assessing packaging to create less desirable-looking products, large anti-smoking campaigns, and using vaping as a way to get smokers to switch from cigarettes.

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This last point is interesting, because of how blatantly different it is from the government stance of the US. Not only does the US government continue to tell residents that vaping is dangerous, (despite it so obviously being better than smoking), but it also keeps going after and bullying the biggest retailer for nicotine vaping – Juul; despite no confirmed reports of actual injury directly related to their products.


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The reason the UK put out the report is to combat the rising death and injury caused by smoking. Every year, approximately 78,000 people die across the UK, and about one in seven is an active smoker. In the year 2019-2020, 506,100 people were admitted to a hospital for smoking-related issues, a 10% increase from 10 years before. Also that year, 710,000 products to quit smoking were sold; which shows a huge desire among the people themselves for an answer to the addiction.

According to Action on Smoking and Health, the Global Burden Study of Disease 2019 points to smoking as the biggest risk factor for death. Whereas being overweight contributed to 56,215 deaths, and alcohol to 25,242 deaths, smoking contributed to 119,776. Incidentally, sedentary lifestyles contributed to 14,335, and drug use outside alcohol, 5,015.

Main causes of smoking deaths relate to heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In fact, 52% of all cancer deaths were related to smoking, equating to about 35,500 deaths. Smoking was also responsible for 35% of deaths related to respiratory issues for that year, making for approximately 23,700 deaths. About 14,700 deaths came from circulatory issues, which accounted for 13% in the category; and 15% of deaths overall were eyed as smoking-related in general.

UK government officially pushing vaping over smoking

The report came out many months ago, and now, the UK is finally releasing some of the new programming to come out of the recommendations. All new policies are designed to meet three goals: help adults quit smoking, to use vaping to help people quit smoking, and to stop people from starting to vape.

One of the first measures? To promote a campaign for people smoking to switch to vaping. Put out by the Department of Health and Social Care along with Neil O’Brien MP, the plan is to help one million cigarette smokers, under the name ‘Swap to Stop.’ This is not about giving people friendly advice about vaping, the government will actually provide vape starter kits to the million people.

Which means the UK government isn’t just saying vaping is a better option, its actively trying to get people to do it over smoking. Plus, it doesn’t stop with this swap, but is accompanied by behavioral support to effectively quit. Right now its all to be handled through the federal government, but local governments will participate later in the year; and will be able to prioritize who gets the vape products in their respective jurisdictions.

Nicotine vapes
Nicotine vapes

What else does the new anti-smoking programming entail?

Apart from the UK government encouraging vaping to get people to stop smoking, the government is instituting some other programming to reduce smoking rates. One is geared toward pregnant women, who will be offered financial incentives to stop smoking in the form of vouchers. This will be relevant to every smoking mother, and is to be instituted in full by the end of 2024. The hope is this will lead to less underweight/underdeveloped babies in need of care, and fewer miscarriages and stillbirths.

Another thing? The government wants those opening cigarettes to be met with positivity and smoking cessation information. It will eventually (after consultations) establish mandatory requirements for inserts in each package. At the same time, it wants to reduce any attractiveness in packaging, that could itself attract buyers.

Furthermore, since the government is now the entity providing the vapes, its cracking down on illicit sales. The government doesn’t want residents to buy anything from which it doesn’t get a cut. This keeps out dirty products, but it also means that the government is going to make people wait to quit, since it can’t provide devices to everyone at once…a huge indication this is about illegal markets as much – if not more – than improving heath. The government is shutting down illicit sellers; under the line that its to keep kids from starting to vape.

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The government is putting £3 million into creating an ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad,’ which actually sounds quite extreme considering its about to give the same devices out to the public. It must really want to root out competitor business. Along with this, the new strategy will also seek to stamp out illicit tobacco sellers via new regulations to be made by HMRC and Border Force. This includes targeting, catching, and punishing illicit operators. Again, this all points to ensuring tax revenue.

Direct from the government

In his announcement, Health Minister Neil O’Brien stated: “Up to 2 out of 3 lifelong smokers will die from smoking.” And that “cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly.”

He went on, “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.”

UK to push vaping over cigarettes
UK to push vaping over cigarettes

According to the ministry of health, 2021 smoking numbers were the lowest on record at 13%, which shows an already existent trend away from smoking. The UK government doubled the taxes on cigarettes back in 2010, making it one of the highest cigarette taxers in the world. According to 2015 WHO data, the UK taxes cigarettes at 82.16% (85.69% as per EU data), which means the UK government makes a lot of money from these taxes. The thing is, many sales are not for legal companies, and for those sales, it collects nothing.

More recently in 2021-2022, the government allocated £68 million from public health grants to services for smoking cessation. The government is also committing £35 million to the NHS this year so that every smoker admitted to a hospital can receive services to quit smoking.

In terms of vaping, the NHS says that in 2021, in the age range 11-15, that 9% were using tobacco vape products, which is up from 6% in 2018. And while this should be looked at as a good thing in that it means they’re not smoking, this increase is not only being called ‘sharp,’ but O’Brien is set to launch “a call for evidence on youth vaping to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vape products – and explore where government can go further.”

For those paying attention it means his ‘call for evidence’ is only after setting a policy. There is a massive contradiction in using vapes to help people stop smoking, just to turn around and say they’re too dangerous for kids to know about. Logically this will never make sense as tons of movies and shows depict constant smokers, something kids will learn about young. My guess is that there isn’t any intention to have kids stop vaping, and this is a move of optics. After all, the government is working so hard to corner the industry, why would it want to lessen its base of potential buyers?!

Conclusion

For the most part this is great news. Even if its also an effort to streamline an industry to help ensure less illicit non-taxpaying sellers. Despite that as a possible co-motive; given the smear campaigns against vaping in the States, its a nice dose of reality. It will be interesting to follow this story, and track progress over time.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.