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Back in 2019, the UK Government laid out a road map of plans for England to reach “Smoke Free” status by the year 2030. This means that 5% or less of the countries adult population would be classed as “active smokers.” Their want and desire to do this would be to create a healthier and better future for all of those living within the country, as well as the environment and also help to reduce mortality rates that are linked with smoking.
This was met with great praise and open arms by anti-smoking groups and charities, as well as vaping campaigners as we all know that the Government have backed the safety of Vaping since 2016 with Public Health England declaring it 95% safer than smoking. However, 4 years down the line and there has not been a lot of pro active happenings from the Government to make this pledge a reality.
However, last week saw the big announcement which has been looming from the Government outlining exactly what their next steps are to get England to reach Smoke Free status by 2030 and I must say, if these plans do come to fruition, we may see this plan get back on course. In this article, I’m going to take a look in detail at exactly what has been said and plans laid out, and give my views on it.
The 2030 Goal Will Be Missed As It Stands
In 2022, the Government commissioned an independent review of the current state of affairs surrounding adult smoking rates which was carried out by Dr Javed Khan.
Within Dr Khan’s report, he made the claims that due to the lack of movement or involvement from the Government on all areas, the goal of Smoke Free 2030 would be missed by quite some way estimating it to be achieved by 2037 at the earliest, but potentially could be as long as 2044 in more deprived areas where the resources needed are considerably less present and less focus is placed on these areas.
Within the report, Dr Khan made several “critical recommendations” to the Government on what needs to be done, and this report has been referenced back to a lot by pro vaping campaigners and organisations as well as myself. I’ve written an separate article on this matter which you can read by clicking the link.
Constant calls for the Government to take action have been made as I said since this report had come out, and when questioned about it, MP’s have said everything is under review and there would be an impending announcement over the plans of what’s going on and what the Government plans to do, and at long last, the plans were announced by Neil O’Brien OBE MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Minister for Primary Care and Public Health. Let’s take a look at it!
The Opening Statement
Mr O’Brien stood before a group at the Policy Exchange last week to lay out the plans and the next steps on what the Government plans to do on Vaping and Smoking.
He started his speech by highlighting what we all knew, that smoking is the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in England and 2 out of 3 lifelong smokers will die due to smoking. He also made the analogy that Cigarettes are the only thing that if used correctly will kill you.
He also states the someone who quits smoking today will not be in a hospital bed next year, and this goes hand in hand with one of the objectives laid out in Rishi Sunak’s manifesto when he became Prime Minster for the UK and that is to cut hospital waiting lists.
Mr O’Brien moves on to talk about the impact that smoking has on the economy also. Highlighting the fact that as of 2022, smoking has a cost of £21 billion to the public purse, which is absolutely eye watering when you think about it. And also dispelled the popular myth that some people believe that smoking actually helps the economy.
He talks about the ripple effect that smoking has down the line as well, with people losing the opportunity of employment because they are smokers, as well as losing their jobs because of frequent time off sick due to smoking related illnesses. The fact that quitting smoking can save a person on average at least £2000 a year.
The final point made is one that I was waiting for it to be made, and it’s the current situation surrounding youth vaping within the UK. Looking at the facts and figures of how many children are now vaping today, and how Disposable Vapes are at the forefront for being responsible that these numbers are increasing.
He concludes his opening statement with
“If your business relies on getting kids hooked on Nicotine, we are coming for you.”
The Plans for Vaping
Mr O’Brien started with the topic of vaping, making it clear that the two priority areas was to stop children from taking up vaping and also “exploit” the huge potential of vaping to help adult smokers quit smoking for good. I’ll go through each part of his statement in detail below;
Mr O’Brien starts off his statement with the topic of youth vaping, and immediately references back to the NHS statistics that show 9% of all 11-15 year olds in 2021 currently used E-Cigarettes. This is a number that has increased from 6% the year prior, so it’s not good to see. But just to clear up as I did some digging on this, “currently using E-Cigarettes” does cover a broad spectrum of either consistently using them on a daily basis to sparsely using them maybe once a week or less, so whilst the number may be high, it’s potentially not as extreme as it sounds.
The estimate that these numbers may have increased is a possibility, and Mr O’Brien also references and thanks Dr Caroline Johnson’s recent policy read to Parliament regarding the banning on Disposable Vapes for the information that she gave within this reading.
The plan was then unveiled on what the Government plans to do going forward to combat the ever rising problem of children vaping and that is the opening of a specific call for evidence on youth vaping to identify opportunities to lower the number of children accessing and then using vaping products, and explore how the Government can intervene and go further as well as looking at how they can go beyond the EU’s TPD Laws that have been set out.
This will explore a range of issues including how we ensure regulatory compliance, look at the appearance and characteristics of vapes, about their marketing and promotion of vapes, and the role of social media which is crucial. It will also seek to better understand the vape market, looking at issues such as the price of low cost products and disposables.
Not only are Disposable Vapes causing problems with youth vaping numbers increasing, they’re also causing massive problems to the environment also as we all know. Mr O’Brien says that the Government are now working closely with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at ways in which the damage being done by Disposable Vapes can be bought right down.
Over 1.3 million Disposable Vapes are thrown into landfill every week, due to the fact they contain lithium ion batteries and cannot be recycled.
The call for evidence is now open for the next 8 weeks and the Government are urging people to submit their views to help collect ideas to shape our future for the better.
Further Enforcement of the Rules
There was news that broke around a month or so ago that “non compliant” Elf Bar Disposable Vapes had entered onto the UK Market and were unknowingly being sold in huge UK Supermarket chains to customers. These non compliant devices had more than 2ml of vape juice contained inside them which goes against TPD laws set out back in 2016.
Supermarkets were quick to action and withdrew these products from sale under the provision of the UK Trading Standards Agencies. And any other devices they continued to sell were checked that they met the requirements.
Mr O’Brien then moved on to make it very clear what was in store for retailers who did not abide by the rules as we have commonly seen in recent times, with independent retailers freely selling Disposable Vape devices that contained more than 2ml of vape juice or more than 20mg Nicotine Content.
Mr O’Brien made the announcement that has been long awaited and so desperately needed which was a £3 million cash injection to the Trading Standards Agencies to create what he dubbed a “flying squad” to enforce rules on selling vaping products and tackle illicit vapes and selling to underage users.
This has been a long time coming and very much needed as I’ve stated in one of my previous articles, the Trading Standards Agencies are worked to the bone with absolute skeleton levels of staff and it simply is not enough to keep up with all of the work needed, so a big cash injection and a creation of a separate team, which judging by the name will be a mobile team going around the country to support, this will help tackle the problems head on and stop these illicit vapes from being sold so frequently.
It will bolster training and enforcement capacity in Trading Standards and undertake specific projects such as test purchasing in convenience stores and vape shops. We will produce guidance to help build regulatory compliance. We will remove illegal products from shelves and at our borders, and we will undertake more testing to ensure compliance with our rules.
The Swap to Stop Scheme Is Unveiled
Arguably the biggest thing to come out of this statement is the above mentioned and that is the Government’s new “Stop to Swap” scheme that is going to be funded by them.
We’ve already seen some of these schemes being launched across the country, most notably the first one being trialled in Great Yarmouth which was a resounding success that then led to more stop smoking services offering this brilliant service to people who are wanting to quit smoking. People were given a voucher to exchange for a Vaping Starter Kit at their local vape store in an effort to help them quit smoking by having the tools to do so with no initial cost to them.
The Government had seen how much success these trials had and Mr O’Brien announced that the Government would be funding a new national “Swap to Stop” scheme, which is the first of it’s kind in the world which is just fantastic news to hear and something that is long overdue to be put in place.
They pledge to work with councils and others to offer ONE MILLION smokers across England a free Vaping Starter Kit to help them quit smoking. Smokers who join this scheme over the next two years must join on one condition…that they commit to quit smoking with the support of the local stop smoking services, pretty straight forward really isn’t it. The Government has promised to make it as easy as possible by referring people to stop smoking services and then helping them from there. They’ve also promised support to those who may want to quit vaping as well.
As I’ve spoken about in a previous article, more deprived areas seem to have higher smoking rates due to varying factors such as high unemployment rates, poverty, and illness and this is where stop smoking services are also coincidentally more sparse when compared to those “less deprived” and the Government wants to target these communities as priority, deeming them the most “at risk”
Mr O’Brien said he has already been working closely with local councils in the North East to get this scheme up and running in their most deprived neighbourhoods which is good to see. They deem this scheme as an exciting opportunity to capitalise on the potential of vaping as a tool to help smokers quit.
Pregnant Women To Receive Help Also
The above was also highlighted by Mr O’Brien, and this is a subject I’ve already covered in a separate article, but I’ll still go over it here in this article.
The Government have promised to help pregnant women who currently smoke actually quit smoking and start vaping to still get their nicotine fix by offering them £400 in vouchers to exchange at vape shops for what they need to help them quit if they smoked. Within the trials that took place, women receiving financial are more than twice as likely to quit. And the Governments return on this project is £4 for every £1 spent.
It’s estimated that this will be fully rolled out and in place by the end of next year.
The New Tobacco Track and Trace Plans Are Unveiled
Mr O’Brien concluded the statement by unveiling the Government’s new “Track and Trace” system that has been implemented across the UK on Tobacco and Cigarettes to help deter illicit sales of these products.
This system requires all cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco to be tracked right from the manufacturer to the first retailer using unique ID codes applied to all of the products. This will be extended to all tobacco products by May 2024 to include cigars, cigarillos, shisha and other tobacco products.
So Far, this operation has seized and removed over £7 million worth of illegal tobacco products being removed from sale within the first year which is superb as it’s prevented so much illegal activity. And HMRC are also introducing civil penalty fees of at least £10,000 for more serious offenders.
Mr O’Brien then reached his conclusion of this statement, and made it clear that stopping smoking not only has major health benefits as well as economic benefits and the evidence to back this up is overwhelming.
And for these reasons, this is why the Government are;
- Stopping the growth of vaping among children
- Introducing new help for a million smokers to quit.
- Increasing enforcement of illicit sales
- Expanding access to new treatments.
- Backing joined-up, integrated approaches
- Rolling out a national incentive scheme to help pregnant women quit,
- Consulting on new pack inserts using modern technology
And this is what they believe will be the crucial points to ensure that England will reach Smoke Free status by the year 2030.
I’ve been saying for the longest time that some intervention and backing from the Government was massively needed to help reach Smoke Free status and this is exactly what has happened and it’s absolutely massive in my opinion.
All of this coming to fruition will not only help reach the goal set out by the Government, but also it laments the legitimacy of Vaping as well, with it having such heavy backing from the Government, it should turn more people’s heads hopefully to want to quit smoking and start vaping, which in turn will help bring down costs to the NHS as well as decreasing the mortality rates caused by smoking.
I hope this isn’t just a “smoke and mirrors” approach and nothing will come of it, which I don’t think it is, and I look forward to keeping you updated to any further news and movements on the happenings of the above mentioned.