There is no point in sugarcoating it: cigarette smoking is a dangerous, stinky habit that’s responsible for millions of deaths all around the planet. World governments have cracked down on tobacco products with heavy taxes, strict regulations, and bans on smoking in public areas.
All of these measures have helped cut down smoking rates. However, one invention has turned out to be considerably more influential than any intervention by public officials: vaping. Ever since they entered the mainstream, e-cigarettes have proven that quitting cigarettes once and for all can, in fact, be easy.
After all, they allow smokers to retain the pleasure of puffing away, but without the stink or the major health risks that come with tobacco smoking.
The British Department of Health and Social Care took note of that, and their quit-smoking campaigns have recently started pushing vaping as a safer alternative to cigarettes. Consequently, His Majesty’s Government has become arguably the most vape-friendly government in the world.
So, what exactly is happening in the UK in relation to vaping and smoking cessation efforts? How does it differ from past approaches, and what is the science behind these recent decisions? You’ll find out all that (and more) from this article.
Public Officials and Vaping: A Tricky Relationship
Up until now, national governments have been rather reluctant to embrace vaping as an official smoking cessation aid. Many have even gone as far as to crack down on e-cigarettes just like they did on cigarettes a couple of decades ago.
The European Union has imposed strict limits on the sale of e-cigarettes and vape juice, banning most of the flavoured liquids and reducing bottle sizes of e-liquid to just 10ml. Of course, that hasn’t deterred vapers and retailers from finding clever ways to go around these laws.
Disposable vapes such as the Elf Bar, or 60ml shortfill bottles with nicotine shots are all the rage in the EU right now. The former can be sold in a whole variety of flavours, and the latter present an easy way to get around the “no flavoured nicotine products” restrictions by selling large, short-filled bottles of zero-nic liquid alongside a 10ml shot of nicotine for users to combine on their own.
Other countries have gone even further. In Thailand, e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and all related products are completely banned, and in Australia, you need to have a prescription to legally enjoy vaping.
The UK government’s positive approach towards e-cigarettes shines a glimmer of hope that better days are yet to come for vapers all over the globe. But what exactly does this approach entail?
“Swap to Stop” and Other Measures
The Department of Health and Social Care has gone on the offensive to cut smoking rates in 2023. A significant part of this offensive is to encourage smokers to transition away from traditional, combustible cigarettes, and towards a safer alternative. This alternative is, of course, vaping.
The “swap to stop” scheme is the first government initiative of its kind in the world. One in five British smokers (roughly 1 million people) will be offered vape starter kits for free, as well as comprehensive behavioural support designed to aid them in this transition. The idea was met with mixed reactions, with some praising the government’s efforts to clamp down on the tobacco industry, and others criticising the decision to effectively replace cigarettes with vapes.
As part of the initiative to reduce smoking rates in the UK to 5% by 2023, pregnant women will also be given financial incentives to drop the habit and remain smoke-free after giving birth. This was tested locally in a number of municipalities, and will be implemented nationwide by the end of 2023. These financial incentives are going to be distributed in the form of vouchers worth up to £400. Recipients will also be provided with behavioural support.
Some of the other discussed measures include:
- Mandatory cigarette pack inserts with positive messages encouraging people to quit
- Banning smoking in beer gardens and other outdoor venues
- Crackdown on illicit vape sales to prevent teens and non-smokers from taking up the habit
As you can see, while vaping has been recognised as a viable smoking cessation aid, public officials are very careful not to come off as promoting e-cigarettes.
Reasoning Behind These Initiatives
Cutting smoking rates has been the goal of many health departments and ministries all over the globe for decades now. Right now, the smoking rate in the UK is at 13%, the lowest it’s ever been. However, that means that 6.6 million people are still smokers who run the risk of developing life-threatening conditions because of the habit.
Tobacco smoking remains the single biggest preventable cause of death in the UK, and the stats are staggering. It is estimated that 2 out of 3 lifelong smokers will die due to their habit, and 1 in 4 of all cancers in the UK developed because of smoking.
Smoking-related illnesses are quite the strain on the NHS, and one of the goals of the initiatives listed above is to relieve the public health system and reduce NHS waiting lists. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that the NHS needs to operate more efficiently to treat everyone who’s in need. Cracking down on smoking can definitely improve the capacity of public hospitals and clinics.
Effectiveness of Vaping in Quitting Smoking
So His Majesty’s Government has deemed vaping to be an effective way to aid individuals in quitting smoking, but what does the science say?
Numerous studies have come out in recent years stating that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are, indeed, one of the most effective smoking cessation methods. A study carried out in Germany in 2016 revealed that not only does vaping help smokers quit, but it also yields even higher tobacco abstinence rates than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
A UK-based study from 2019 confirmed these findings, while also highlighting the fact that NRT is likely to cause nausea in patients, whereas the most common complaint about e-cigarettes was mouth-to-throat irritation.
The Bottom Line
The British government’s recent initiatives to crack down on smoking have taken a refreshingly vaping-positive approach. Whether the “swap to stop” initiative will inspire other countries to follow suit remains to be seen, but it’s definitely good news for all those who are tired of the ongoing vilification of vaping by public officials.
In the words of Dr. Javed Khan, whose independent review of smoking in the UK helped form the recent initiatives, vaping is not a “silver bullet” to alleviate all smoking-related issues, but they are definitely a viable quit-smoking aid. If more governments open their eyes to this reality, the world would be all the better for it.
Related: Quitting Smoking