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NHS vape starter kit vouchers could help the heaviest smokers quit, trial finds

NHS vape starter kit vouchers could help the heaviest smokers quit, trial finds
NHS vape starter kit vouchers could help the heaviest smokers quit

Handing out vape starter kit vouchers on the NHS could help even the heaviest smokers quit for good, with 42% quitting within a month in a trial scheme.

A study published by the University of East Anglia found that giving a £25 vape-shop voucher to smokers made it much easier to give up smoking tobacco by removing some of the upfront costs and patients anxieties of the change.

The researchers worked in collaboration with GPs in Great Yarmouth as well as with the NHS Stop Smoking Service to trial the scheme, which is now being rolled out across Norfolk due to the trial’s success.

A total of 668 participants who had previously failed to quit smoking were referred to the scheme, with each being offered a voucher which could be redeemed at a participating vape store. Participants were also given advice on which products were right for them, technical and informative advice, as well as access to peer-to-peer support.

Of those participants 340 redeemed a voucher for a vape starter kit and by four weeks, 42% (143) had quit smoking. A further 15% (50) had quit by 12 weeks of redeeming their vape vouchers. 

Smoking rates have generally declined across the country to less than 15% but are still areas where rates are much higher. Great Yarmouth, an area with high levels of health inequality and deprivation, has a smoking rate of 21%. A rate which rises to 31% amongst adult routine and manual labourers.

Lead researcher and addiction expert Prof Caitlin Notley, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘Research shows that vaping is an effective way of quitting smoking, compared to nicotine replacement therapies like patches and gum. E-cigarettes or vapes are now the most popular way of stopping smoking.

‘Our research has previously shown that they may be particularly helpful in helping people to not only quit, but to stay quit for good.

‘We wanted to see whether GPs giving out vape shop vouchers, alongside support from the stop smoking service, can help smokers quit. We particularly wanted to target vulnerable and disadvantaged smokers who had failed to quit smoking by other means.’

Interviews with scheme participants found that the vape starter kit vouchers, as well as the information sessions, were effective at lowering the barriers to getting started with vaping, especially the upfront costs of buying a vape.

Participants also told researchers that the scheme had allayed concerns about the safety of vaping. In particular, one participant said they had concerns about ‘popcorn lung’, a rare lung condition formally known as bronchiolitis obliterans which has been liked without evidence to vaping. However, the information sessions were able to reassure the participant and remove this particular barrier. 

Professor Notley said: ‘This innovative approach saw the NHS local stop smoking service, vape retailers and researchers working together, recognising that other forms of smoking cessation support do not work for everyone.

‘Overall, the project was well received by smokers as it offered an affordable route into vaping. GPs supported the scheme and appreciated being able to offer an alternative to entrenched smokers.’

The team hope that a similar vape starter kit voucher scheme could be rolled out across the UK, to help more people switch from smoking to vaping, and reduce the number of people that still smoke cigarettes.