A government-backed stop smoking service in the United Kingdom is encouraging vaping by offering a voucher program where smokers committed to quitting can receive free e-cigarettes.
Quit4Life, an arm of the National Health Service (NHS) operating in Gosport, Havant and Fareham, says they want to support smokers looking to ditch the deadly habit this New Year by increasing access to vapor products, harm reduction tools that significantly reduce health risks from conventional smoking. The group is allowing smokers who come to them for help quitting to exchange a voucher for a vaping starter kit, reports Portsmouth News.
Quit4Life points to the recent success of the Stoptober quitting campaign as evidence that smokers are eager to give up cigarettes when given access to a product that successfully aids their transition. Public Health England, the agency of the U.K.’s Department of Health behind the Stoptober campaign in October, endorsed vaping for the first time this year as a great way for smokers to quit the habit.
“We are excited to support Public Health England in their message to embrace quitting smoking through e-cigarettes,” Julia Robson, clinical service manager of Quit4Life, said in a statement, according to Portsmouth News. “As shown in the Stoptober messages, e-cigarettes can be extremely effective as a means to giving up smoking, especially when combined with additional support from a stop smoking service.”
Vaporized, the U.K.’s largest chain of vaping retail shops, said they experienced a 40 percent sales increase this October over last year’s Stoptober numbers and expanded their business operations. The U.K. currently has the second lowest smoking rate in all of Europe, and officials say vaping is a big part of the reason.
“This cost-effective and popular way to switch from smoking cigarettes has already helped many smokers to quit tobacco,” said Robson, according to Portsmouth News. “Quit4Life aim to support as many people as possible who would like to improve both their health and wealth by quitting smoking, either with a vape or more traditional medication.”
The Royal College of Physicians agrees that using e-cigarettes eliminates most of the harms attributed to smoking. The medical body also recommends vaping for patients trying to quit traditional tobacco products. Vaping eliminates up to 95 percent of the risk associated with cigarettes because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are inhaled through smoke, according to Public Health England.
Researchers from the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina recently found that smokers who are open to trying electronic cigarettes vastly improve their chances of quitting.
In the randomized study, published in December in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, researchers gave 46 smokers a vaping device for three weeks without additional instructions or requirements for use, in order to create a more natural setting to evaluate the role vaping plays in smoking cessation.
Roughly 57 percent of participants who were given vaping devices containing a high dose of nicotine (24 mg) went on to buy a vape for themselves. They also reported smoking fewer cigarettes and engaging in more attempts to quit than the control group, which did not receive e-cigarettes.
Still, lawmakers in the U.K. fear the positive message on vaping is not getting through to the larger population, which faces a constant barrage of media misinformation concerning the products. Members of parliament in the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) are urging the government to clear up misconceptions that are leaving smokers confused about their options and threaten to impede the country’s progress reducing the smoking rate.
The group notes the rate of smokers in the country transitioning to e-cigarettes has dropped significantly, showing the fear-based campaigns of tobacco control groups against vaping are gaining ground. The vaping population in the U.K. rose by only 4 percent in 2016, after expanding by 62 percent in 2014 and 24 percent in 2015.
The public is also becoming less educated on the health profile of vapor products. The latest polling by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) shows only 20 percent of adults in the U.K. understand that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, a drop from 31 percent in 2015.
MP Mark Pawsey, chairman of the APPG, commended Public Health England for offering e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools to participants in the annual Stoptober quitting campaign, and says it should serve as a model for broader government action on the issue.
“It’s up to the government to ensure such campaigns (as Public Health England’s) become the norm, not an exception, so that the U.K. can fully exploit the public health potential of vaping,” Pawsey said Nov. 20 in the House of Parliament.
The U.K.’s Department of Health released a policy paper on e-cigarettes July 18, backing the devices as useful tools to quit smoking and eliminate secondhand risks to the public. The department’s Five Year Tobacco Control plan aims to significantly slash the overall smoking rate, and argues that expanding public access to vaping will help achieve this goal.
Health officials in the country hope to bring the smoking rate down from 15.5 percent to 12 percent by the end of 2022. The report states that the government wants to “minimize the risk of harm” to the smoker and those around them by “maximizing the availability of safer alternatives to smoking.”
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