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Provide free vaping starter packs to deprived communities to achieve Smokefree target: report

January 14, 2023

Photo: iStock

Cross-party think tank Demos has published a set of policy recommendations around e-cigarette regulation to help England get back on track to reach its 2030 smokefree target.

The proposals, set out in a new white paper Smoke without fire: A new vision for vaping policy in the UK, include targeted provision of free vaping starter packs to deprived communities.

The white paper has sought to identify ways of encouraging smokers to switch to e-cigarettes without introducing non-smokers to nicotine.

Last year, the government-commissioned Khan review into tobacco harms predicted that, based on current projections, around 7 per cent of the UK, over 4.8 million people will still smoke in 2030, despite the UK government’s smoke-free ambition to achieve five per cent average adult smoking prevalence by 2030 in England.

Last week, Cancer Research UK stated in a report that that ambitious target will be missed by nine years, if the recent trends continue. The projections for England by the charity, which use data to 2021, estimate that the average prevalence in England will reach 5.4 per cent in 2039.

The white paper has identified a number of gaps in the current regulatory framework and produced a range of policy proposals to address them. These include:

  • Significant expansion in public information campaigns promoting e–cigarettes as less harmful nicotine alternatives; including more investment from the Office for Health Improvements and Disparities (OHID). This would take inspiration from the annual Stoptober campaign, which has increased the number of smokers making quit attempts (2.3 million since 2012).
  • Local authorities working with stop smoking services to target and provide adult smokers in deprived communities with free Swap to Stop packs. This has been trialled around the country, with a 2019 scheme in Greater Manchester finding that 62% of those who had used it had stopped smoking within four weeks.
  • Government to modify Tobacco and Related Products (TRPR) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) regulations to allow government-approved messages promoting them as less harmful to be included both online and on inserts in cigarette packets.

“Based on current trajectories we will not make good on the government’s laudable ambition to all but end adult smoking. There is vast room for improvement in the way we currently regulate the use, promotion and sale of e-cigarette products. We need a full and thorough overhaul of the current framework to ensure gaps are plugged and new, effective regulation is brought in,” Alice Dawson, researcher at Demos and co-author of Smoke the white paper, said.

“Given the risk of introducing young people to nicotine, this is by no means an easy task. However, we believe that by targeted, coordinated action, our proposals can make a real, lasting difference in supporting smokers who are trying to quit.”

The report also recognises the potential pitfalls of policies which introduce non-smokers, particularly the young, to nicotine. Despite age restrictions, the latest data shows that 16 per cent of children aged 11 to 17 have tried vaping, an increase from 14 per cent in 2020. This number rises to 29 per cent for 16 to 17 year olds.

It therefore proposes the following policies:

  • Government to close the loophole that presently allows free e-cigarette samples to be handed out to children and teens.
  • Government to make the Challenge 25 policy mandatory for the sale of e-cigarettes in all brick and mortar shops and supermarkets.
  • Parliament to strengthen the regulation around “child-friendly” imagery and e-liquid descriptions on e-cigarette packaging.

Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of illness and premature death in the UK, with an estimated 191,900 deaths attributed to smoking in England from 2017 to 2019. It remains a driving cause behind health inequalities in England, with ONS data suggesting that around one in four people who are unemployed smoked, compared with around one in eight people who are in paid employment.