Swap-to-stop: the UK's route to becoming smokefree by 2030? Martin Cullip unwraps the UK GOV's latest stop-smoking scheme
Is swap-to-stop the answer? Or is nicotine prescription the way forward? Join Martin at the #GFN23 workshop 'Medicinal licensing of vaping products and the potential implications for public health' to discuss this and more!
Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV.
In the UK, 1 million smokers will be provided with a vape starter kit as a part of a Swap
to Stop campaign, introduced by the UK government to help smokers quit the habit.
Most notable, pregnant women will also be offered financial incentives to help them
Joining us today to discuss the new plan is Martin Cullip, International Fellow at the
Taxpayers Protection Alliance Consumer Centre.
Hello Martin, it's nice to see you again on the programme.
First, how significant is this news?
It's very big, yeah, it's world-leading. The Swap to Stop campaign, especially the handing
out of free vaping products to people who smoke, is something that's not been tried
anywhere else in the world. And that's not to say it's not evidence-based, there's been
trials of this scheme across the UK and they've come up with very positive results. So the
government is now going to roll it out and aims to give away up to 1 million vape devices
to people who smoke. So yeah, that particularly is a particularly big thing. But the proposals
in general are very surprising to many people and we didn't get any notice of it. And there's
many people expecting other things, but what's come out is quite positive and I think rather
And is the campaign part of a tobacco control plan running in the UK?
Not really. Neil O'Brien has been saying in a number of parliamentary question answers
that he doesn't particularly think a tobacco control plan document would be particularly
helpful. So these are kind of stand-alone announcements, they're stand-alone proposals
of things that they think will help. And they do address the Government's Smoke-Free 2030
target, he said that. And he also said that this is in response to the Kahn Review, which
was last year was Government Commission Review. So it does address those two factors, but
it's not specifically a tobacco control plan. It's just a set of announcements to, as he
called it, to reduce smoking and reduce youth vaping in the UK.
Many people still think that vaping is as harmful as smoking. Do you think this news
will stop misinformation around vaping?
I don't think it will stop it, but it will certainly have a positive effect because you're
basically telling smokers that the Government endorses these products. They're saying they're
going to give away a million vapes to people who smoke. So that should hopefully alleviate
some concerns that smokers did have about making the leap to try a vaping device. If
the Government says, you know, we put faith in these products, then maybe they'll look
past all the scary headlines and actually take the plunge and have a go. But at the
same time, the Government endorsement can hopefully have an effect on medical professionals
as well, you know, GPs, doctors, and make them trust the products more and be more reassured
to recommend vaping products to people who smoke, who come to see them.
Do you know of some other details regarding the programme, such as what companies or types
of devices will be part of the scheme?
No, there's no further detail on that side of things. Louise Ross said in an interview
that I saw the other day that she believes there's going to be a tendering process. So
companies who make vaping products can probably apply to the Government to supply their products
to be handed out. But I suppose that will, depending on a lot of factors, they will want
certain reassurances that only certain types of devices that will probably be accepted.
So we don't really know what devices are going to be used just yet. But just the fact they
are considering giving out a million vaping devices is a good thing.
We've read that the Swap to Stop campaign is also targeted at pregnant women. Does the
programme specify what benefits they can receive?
Well with that, it's more, I think, incentives. They haven't mentioned whether those incentives
might include vaping products, but they've said that pregnant women can get up to £400
in incentives. Again, this is not without evidence. There's been trials across the country
that if you look, there was a very interesting Twitter thread by Linda Bald, who's done a
lot of research in this area last week. And this is trialled in Glasgow, it's trialled
in areas near Manchester and full trials in Northern Ireland. And they found that when
these incentive schemes were used, it was twice as effective as other ways of helping
pregnant women to stop smoking during pregnancy. So again, it's evidence-based. They've gone
through previous trials first before they rolled it out nationwide. So it's not done
in a vacuum.
Do you think by introducing this initiative, it's likely to succeed in cutting smoking
I can't say that it wouldn't, really. I mean, if you're handing out a million vape products
to people who previously smoked, we know from all the research that vaping is twice as effective
as nicotine replacement therapy. So surely if the previous approach was just to offer
NRT as a first-line measure, and there were many stop smoking services who were perhaps
a little cautious about recommending vaping. And if they're more relaxed about recommending
vaping and they have this scheme to hand out these free vapes, then I think it can only
do one thing and that's to help to reduce rates of smoking.
What are your personal thoughts about the Swap to Stop campaign? And have you heard
any other positive or negative opinions about the scheme?
Well I think it's overall very positive. Again, it was unexpected. But at the same time, there
are some people who are clearly not very happy about it, generally the anti-vaping types.
And you could see that at the press conference that Neil O'Brien held, that you could see
people who were transparently quite angry that he hadn't imposed the usual bans, restrictions,
plain packaging and all the other measures that lots of people were talking about. But
I do find that quite curious because overall many of these were saying that they thought
it was a good idea to hand out vapes, you know, it's a step forward, but it wasn't doing
enough and they'd like to see other measures, like I said, plain packaging, hiding vaping
products behind screens. So I don't see how that's very coherent policymaking if they're
saying they think it's a good thing to hand out vaping products to smokers. But at the
same time, what they want is more measures which actually make vaping products less visible
to smokers and less appealing to smokers. I don't see how you can hold both of those
views at the same time. So I think there's some very confused people on the other side.
But yeah, I thought it was all positive. And I think it was very welcome that after what's
been an avalanche of bad media in the UK in the start of this year, the government has
held firm and come out with positive proposals and ones which can actually work.
Final question to you, Martin, regarding the upcoming Global Forum on Nicotine. What issues
are you looking to tackle at the conference?
Well, personally, I'm looking forward to a panel that I'm taking part in on the idea
of prescription vaping products, vapes on prescription in the UK. So that's going to
be fun to debate. And I know that there'll be a few meetings of consumer advocates while
we're over there. It's a good time to meet up with people all over the world who sometimes
only see on webinars and Zoom calls and stuff like that. So that'd be interesting. And it'd
be also nice because I think a few of my colleagues in America, in my work with the Taxpayers
Protection Alliance, are coming over. And it'd be interesting to hear their perspective
because I know they're going through a lot in the US at the moment with state hearings
on labour bans and increases in taxation, that sort of thing. So it'd be good to hear
their perspective as well from the American side and the battles that they're currently
engaged in with public health authorities in America.
Thank you, Martin. Looking forward to seeing you in Warsaw in June. That's all for today.
Tune in next time here on GFN TV or on our GFN TV podcast. And don't forget to register
for the Global Forum on Nicotine Conference, taking place in Warsaw from the 21st to 24th
of June. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.