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Consumer forums applaud UK for ‘enlightened and proportionate’ smokefree plans

April 12, 2023

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Nicotine and tobacco consumer forums have backed the latest UK government proposals to promote vapes as quit smoking aid and prevent adolescents from accessing vaping products.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien on Tuesday announced a raft of new initiatives designed to accelerate the government’s target of reaching smokefree status by 2030 – defined as smoking prevalence of less than 5 per cent.

The measures announced include:

  • One million smokers will be given a free vaping starter kit to encourage switching.
  • Pregnant women will be offered up to £400 as an incentive to quit smoking.
  • £3 million of funding for a vapes enforcement squad led by trading standards to prevent illicit and underage sales of vaping products.
  • A call for evidence for further ideas on how to encourage quitting and preventing youth vaping.
  • A consultation on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts with positive messages and information on quitting smoking.

Consumer body New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) UK said the proposals are well thought-through and proportionate.

“The NNA warmly welcomes the government’s approach of embracing reduced risk products for smoking cessation, while also resisting simplistic prohibitive regulations to reduce youth vaping which could do more harm than good,” it said in a statement.

“We are particularly pleased to see that the government is considering cigarette pack inserts which is a policy we have long championed. It would require an amendment to current tobacco packaging regulations but is a common-sense idea which is long overdue. There is no better targeted way to reach people who smoke than by giving them information with the products they buy.”

The organisation added that the plan to issue free vaping starter kits will be reassuring to smokers who may have been made wary of vaping previously by alarmist media stories.

“It is a very welcome endorsement of vaping by the government which will also serve to encourage public health professionals to be more confident in recommending vaping as a first-line option for quitting combustible tobacco use,” it said.

The NNA highlighted the minister’s statement that the new ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’ will work in line with the wider plan to reduce smoking going forward.

“This is an important distinction because an over-reaction to concerns about youth vaping will inevitably reduce the appeal of the products for adults who currently smoke,” it said.

The new task force will focus on tackling illicit, unregulated devices which are entering the country and being sold on an underground market, as well as ensuring that retail outlets are not contravening regulatory controls that government has implemented to prevent young people accessing the products.

“This is a sensible set of measures by the government. Kneejerk proposals such as plain packaging, prohibition of certain products and high taxation would throw the baby out with the bath water and could perpetuate smoking in adults which is orders of magnitude more of a threat to public health. It would also be a backward step in the government’s aim of achieving smokefree status by 2030,” the NNA noted.

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA), a global vaping consumer organisation, praised the UK government’s commitment, saying that the will strengthen the UK’s position as one of the tobacco harm reduction champions worldwide.

“The UK is a smoking-cessation champion and harm reduction leader worldwide. Smoking rates have fallen by more than 29 per cent in the last decade since vaping became widely popular, and the government must double down on embracing vaping,” Michael Landl, director of the WVA, said.

“The broad adoption of vaping due to strong political backing and sound medical evidence is why smoking rates decrease faster than in other countries. Further helping smokers to switch will accelerate the UK’s success story.”

Compared to the EU’s 25 per cent smoking rate, the UK is on the right track and these new policy measures would be a further push in the right direction, Landl added.

Smokers’ rights group Forest welcomed the proposals.

“Education is always better than coercion so we’re pleased the government appears to favour the carrot not the stick approach to smoking cessation,” Simon Clark, director of Forest, said.

“Vaping is a significantly less harmful alternative to smoking so it makes sense to encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes. If however adult smokers still prefer to smoke tobacco, government must respect that choice,” he added.

Commenting on the proposals, a spokesperson for Imperial Brands, the company behind the blu vape brand, said: “As a long-established vape manufacturer with a strong track record of responsible marketing, we share the public’s concern over the way unscrupulous operators have targeted children.

“That’s why we welcome today’s proposals designed to eliminate youth access, and we look forward to contributing to the policy discussion.

“We are pleased that the government continues to believe that responsible vape providers have a role to play in helping adult smokers quit smoking. We will carefully study the other proposed measures on tobacco pack inserts and feed back as part of the consultation process.”