LONDON: Up to one million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for "vapes", with pregnant women offered financial incentives to make the change in what will be a world first, the British government said on Tuesday (Apr 11).
Under the scheme, almost one in five smokers will be given a vape - an e-cigarette - starter kit along with support to help quit smoking, the Department of Health (DoH) said.
Pregnant women will also be offered vouchers to help them kick the habit as part of the government's target of reducing the number of smokers to 5 per cent or less of the population from 13 per cent now.
"Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking. Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly," Health Minister Neil O’Brien will say in a speech later on Tuesday, the government said.
"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."
Britain's approach stands in contrast to that of countries like Singapore and Australia.
Vaping is illegal in Singapore. But although the use, purchase and possession of e-vaporisers have been banned since February 2018, such products continue to be sold online and smuggled into the country. More people have also been caught for the offences.
In Australia, nicotine vapes can only be purchased with a prescription.
"Currently, there is insufficient evidence to promote the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation," said Australia's Department of Health and Aged Care.
Although worldwide average smoking rates are higher than in Britain, tobacco is still the highest preventable cause of death and illness in the country, the DoH said.
The government spent £68 million (US$84.52 million) from 2021 to 2022 on local authority measures to get people to stop smoking, leading to 100,000 smokers quitting, and easing the strain on Britain's overwhelmed National Health Service.
Vaping, however, has its critics and health officials have warned its popularity among children is exposing them to chemicals whose long-term effects are unclear.
Health service figures show 9 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds in Britain had used e-cigarettes in 2021, up from 6 per cent three years before. The government said it would set up an enforcement squad backed by £3 million in funding to prevent the illegal sale of vapes to those under 18.