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“Swap to stop” Scheme: Cutting the Link Between Smoking and Inequalities

The Government has announced a new “swap to stop” scheme designed to improve health outcomes and cut smoking rates in England.

One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a push to make the nation “smoke free”.

The series of new measures is set to help the Government meet its ambition to become “smoke free”. By 2030, they hope to reduce smoking rates to 5% or less. 

One in five smokers provided with a vape starter kit

As part of the world-first national scheme, approximately one in five smokers in England will be provided with a vape starter kit. Alongside the kit, smokers will be offered behavioural support, mandatory positive messages will be inserted into cigarette packs, and pregnant women will be offered financial incentives to help them quit the habit. 

Officials say 9% of women still smoke during pregnancy. The Government hopes a financial incentive alongside behavioural support will help pregnant women to stop smoking by the end of the year.

Officials expect vouchers will be available throughout pregnancy and could amount to £400 if they complete the scheme.

Swap to stop scheme is “the first of its kind in the world”

Health Minister Neil O’Brien will launch the new schemes in a speech on Tuesday.

“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,” he is expected to say.

“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.

“We will work with councils and others to offer a million smokers across England a free vaping starter kit.”

A selection of products, strengths and flavours will be on offer to allow smokers to find the vape most suitable to them.

Funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, the “swap to stop” scheme is estimated to cost around £45 million over two years.

Swap to Stop Scheme encourages people to vape rather than smoke
Smoking remains the single biggest preventable cause of death and illness in England.

“Nowhere near sufficient”

Campaigners welcomed the measures as “welcome steps in the right direction” but warned they are “nowhere near sufficient”.

Smoking remains the single biggest preventable cause of death and illness in England. According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), 77,800 people died from smoking-related causes in England in 2017 alone. That’s over 200 people every day. And the impact of smoking on ill health in the same period resulted in an estimated 489,300 hospital admissions.

Smoking is far more common among people with cumulative disadvantage

ASH found that smoking is far more common among people associated with cumulative disadvantage including: 

One study conducted by ASH found that the highest smoking rates were recorded among groups and localities characterised by single-parent households, living in socially rented accommodation, few, if any, educational qualifications, no access to a car and who reported feeling the area they lived in offered little community support.

In 2014, a study found that 77% of people experiencing homelessness smoked.

Chief Executive of ASH, Deborah Arnott said,

“In 2019 the government committed to making England smokefree by 2030, but it took four years for a public health minister to secure concrete action to deliver. Vapes increase smokers chances of successfully quitting, as do vouchers for pregnant smokers so these are welcome steps in the right direction, but they are nowhere near sufficient.”

“Last year’s Khan report, commissioned by government, warned that without immediate and sustained action the smokefree 2030 target would be missed by years. Not enough has changed, so that is still the case. Khan’s comprehensive strategy required funding of £125 million a year, many times more than the current announcements. Funding that’s desperately needed to reinstate cuts of more than 90% to mass media campaigns, and nearly a half to smoking cessation services and wider tobacco control. Not to mention the absence of the tougher regulations Khan recommended to raise the age of sale, and reduce the appeal of smoking as well as vaping.”

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

Through policy institute Curia’s Levelling Up Commission, evidence shows that there is a significant correlation between poverty and smoking rates. The Commission has identified a series of public health interventions that are needed and will report later in the year on some recommendations to target resources at particularly communities to improve health outcomes and life expectancy.

Smoking rates are higher in low income areas
Smoking rates in low income areas are much higher than in wealthier communities (Source: Vuit)

Final thought

Although measures to quit smoking are welcomed, the Government needs to better investigate the habit and reduce the cycle of inequality. Studies reveal that the highest rates of smoking are consistently found among those who are most disadvantaged. This means, the more disadvantaged someone is, the more likely they are to smoke and to suffer from smoking-related disease.

According to Ash, tobacco addiction, and the loss of income it causes, can “exacerbate and lock people into poverty.” This addiction further “locks children from low-income backgrounds into a cycle of inequality, by increasing their likelihood of smoking in later life.”

Any smoker who is struggling because their socio-economic or psychosocial needs are unmet may consider smoking as a coping mechanism. To become a “smoke free” nation by 2030, the government must address these unmet needs and reduce the inequalities that exist amongst us. 

To find out more about Curia’s Levelling Up Commission, please visit www.curia.uk.com or email Shivani Sen.

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