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Stopping the start: what the latest anti-smoking plans mean for vapers

Westminster

Sam Haythornthwaite |

Last fact-checked 14 Feb 2024 | Report a content error

The UK government has announced a whole new tobacco strategy. It’s called Stopping the start, and it could help us break free of smoking once and for all.

In  this article we’ll look at why the government are putting this new package of UK laws together. We’ll explain what the government is trying to do (including Swap to Stop) and talk through what it all means for vapers. 

What is Stopping the Start?

In October 2023, the UK government released a policy paper called ‘Stopping the start: our new plan to create a smokefree generation’. In this paper, the government shared its plans to eradicate smoking once and for all. The report covered everything related to smoking. Advertising, public education and law changes were all included. Importantly for us, it also covered vaping. The government then launched a public consultation on its ideas, which many of us participated in just before Christmas (see our article here).

It’s a long report — over 40 pages — but it has one very clear central message. Tobacco is “the only consumer product that kills up to two thirds of its users”. We need to help smokers quit, then make it impossible for people to take up smoking in the first place. This is what “Stopping the start” is all about.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what might change in the next few years…

Keep raising the smoking age by one year, every year

First up, the government plan to outlaw selling “...tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009” (source: gov.uk). Anyone aged 14 or younger would never be able to legally buy tobacco products in the UK. Adult smokers who remain addicted to cigarettes would still be able to buy tobacco, but young smokers would be better protected, and society would eventually be completely free of cigarette addiction. 

Current estimates suggest that this one law could halve the percentage of smokers under 30 by 2030. Twenty years from now, the ‘smokers under 30’ stat could be 0% (source: gov.uk).

Spend more money on stop-smoking support services

The government already spends £68 million a year on local stop smoking services. The new plan more than doubles this investment to £138 million a year. In theory, this increased investment could help 360,000 people set a quit date each year. There’s also a plan for a new national anti-smoking campaign (£15 million a year) and a plan to support pregnant smokers who are trying to quit (£10 million). 

Free vapes for quitters with ‘Swap to Stop’

Swap to stop is a new UK government programme that will give smokers a free vaping starter kit when they quit smoking. According to the NHS, ”Almost two-thirds of people who use a vape along with support from a local Stop Smoking Service successfully quit smoking” (source: nhs.uk), so the plan is to combine free kit with expert support from a trained stop-smoking counsellor. The plan is to invest £45 million in ‘Swap to Stop’ over the next two years, potentially helping one million smokers to make the switch from smoking to vaping. 

We’re delighted that our government is finally recognising the role vapes can play in our journey towards a smoke-free society. The ‘Stopping the start’ command paper confirms that vapes are “...up to twice as effective as [patches and gum] at one-fifth of the cost”, and quotes research showing that “smokers who use a vape every day are 3 times more likely to quit smoking”. With Swap to Stop, the government are taking proper action to make the most of vapes as a quitting tool. 

The Swap to Stop scheme will put at-risk communities first, so the roll-out will start in job centres, homeless centres and social housing providers. It will also be administered by stop smoking counsellors, which will help encourage even more people to use these services when trying to quit. 

Get much tougher on underage vaping

There are already laws in place to prevent the sale of vapes to teenagers and young children, but much more needs to be done. The government’s new plan recognises that there has been a “recent and highly concerning surge in the number of children vaping” (source: gov.uk). This report looks at why this might be happening, and what actions the government can take to stop it. Right now, the government plans to build new laws around…

  1. Vape flavours, especially fruit and sweet flavours, which research shows children are especially attracted to
  2. Vape packaging and product presentation, potentially stopping the use of bright colours and cartoon-style illustrations
  3. Point of sale displays, which definitely need tighter laws. Right now, a corner shop can put a vape display in their shop wherever they like. This can make it easy for shoplifters to get their hands on vape devices. If vape displays were legally required to sit behind the shop counter, for instance, then thefts would fall and the number of stolen vapes in circulation would go down.
  4. Disposable vapes are self-contained and pocket-sized, which makes it easier for underage vapers to hide their habit from parents and teachers … but it’s their environmental impact that may lead to an outright ban. Section 140 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives the government the power to ban or restrict polluting products (source: legislation.gov.uk). The government’s latest plan suggests using Section 140 to deal with disposables.
  5. Non-nicotine vapes could potentially face tighter regulation, too. At the moment, vapes with nicotine are regulated tightly and controlled by the MHRA, but non-nicotine vapes are not. A change in the law could ensure that nobody under the age of 18 could be sold a vape device or e-liquid, regardless of nicotine strength. This wouldn’t just apply to sales, but to free samples, too. 

Invest in enforcement

We already have strong vaping laws in place, but these existing laws aren’t always enforced properly. The reality is that underage vaping is on the rise. Children are getting their hands on vapes, which means that somewhere, somehow, illegal vape sales are taking place. That’s part of why the government is investing more in enforcement (source: gov.uk). 

There will be a £30 million a year boost in funding for trading standards, Border Force and HMRC to help tackle illicit trade. What’s more, local authorities will be able to issue on-the-spot fines for any underage vape sales. We’ll also get much tougher guidance on online age verification systems. 

When will these changes happen?

The ‘Stopping the start’ paper is a command paper (presented to Parliament “By Command of His Majesty”). The name ‘Command Paper’ suggests that everything in the document will become law automatically, but in reality it has to go through the exact same process as everything else. 

Proposed laws all need to be written up as bills, then scrutinised carefully in both houses of Parliament (learn more on gov.uk). Vaping and tobacco fall under ‘Health policy’, which is a devolved matter. This means that any laws enacted in England need to be enacted separately in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Overall, this could mean a very long wait before we get any new laws. The good news is that, with the government’s latest plan, there is now a crystal-clear understanding of what vapers need in the years to come. More support to help quit smoking, protection from underage vaping and more funding to help smokers to kick the habit for good. 

Stay safe and happy vaping!

John Boughey

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