The UK’s annual ‘Stoptober’ campaign in 2017 involved the first promotion by the government of using e-cigarettes as a tool for helping tobacco smokers kick the habit. ‘Stoptober’ is a 28-day challenge that encourages smokers to quit for this period during October, with the ultimate aim of stopping altogether. It’s based on research that shows if a smoker can make it to 28-days without cigarettes, they are five times more likely to ditch the habit entirely. Currently, the NHS promotes the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking on its website, explaining that it can help manage nicotine cravings. E-cigarettes carry a small fraction of the health risks associated with tobacco smoking, including that they don’t produce carbon monoxide or tar, which are two of the most harmful components to tobacco smoke. Although this information about the benefits of vaping is available on the NHS website, e-cigarettes are not currently available on prescription on the NHS; tobacco alternatives are regulated as consumer products.
GoSmokeFree.co.uk surveyed 1,200Brits on their opinions toward vaping as a tobacco harm reduction strategy – should e-cigarettes be made available on the NHS? The in-depth survey found that more than a third (37%) of people said they thought vaping products should be made available on prescription on the NHS, given their benefits in helping cigarette smokers ditch the habit. More than 6 million adults across England still smoke cigarettes, making it the leading preventable cause of premature death at nearly 75,000 deaths per year. In fact, the survey also found that 34% of people said they think the government should make cigarettes illegal, given the risks associated with the habit for not only the individual, but those around them as well. This may very well be because 40% of people also said they don’t think anti-smoking laws in the UK are tough enough.
Unfortunately, a recent survey of current smokers also discovered that almost half (45%) of them said they’ve been smoking more since the beginning of the first lockdown, 43% of whom said this was due to boredom. When it comes to habits (especially often-occurring ones, like smoking), they are easy to develop, but incredibly difficult to break. Since its launch a decade ago, ‘Stoptober’ has encouraged 2.3 million cigarette smokers to make an attempt at quitting. In the UK, an estimation of around 3.6 million people use e-cigarettes, with most being ex-tobacco smokers. The survey by GoSmokeFree.co.uk found that of those ex-smokers who switched to vaping, 42% said the biggest benefit of quitting cigarettes has been that they feel healthier overall. Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) said vaping is far cheaper as compared to cigarettes, especially considering the fact that the price of tobacco products increased significantly in the UK after the last budget. Almost 1 in 5 (19%) people surveyed said the biggest benefit is that vaping is safer in general, which could have to do with the fact that it doesn’t involve the use of a flame and doesn’t produce tar or carbon monoxide. Eight percent of people who now vape said they find the variety of vape products the biggest benefit of quitting tobacco, and 7% said they personally enjoy the fewer after-effects associated with e-cigarettes.
Although vaping isn’t available on the NHS at present, UK health professionals are encouraged to advise cigarette smokers of the benefits of e-cigarettes as a better alternative. However, nearly 3 in 4 (73%) survey respondents said they don’t think health authorities have done enough to encourage smokers to quit by converting to vaping.
And over half (56%) of respondents also said they think cigarette smokers should pay more tax, due to the increased burden that smoking-related issues place on the NHS. More than half (59%) also weren’t aware that the cost of smoking to the UK government is approximately £12.6 billion per year. This includes a range of factors, such as smoking-related hospital admissions and community support.
There is an abundance of benefits that are associated with a reduced smoking rate, for both smokers, and society in general. It’s estimated that reducing smoking rates will save the NHS up to a staggering £890 million per year.
These benefits of a reduced smoking rate also include:
Reduced risk of cancers, including throat, lung, stomach and oesophagus.
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Decreased chance of developing stomach ulcers.
Decreased impact to the environment.
Less exposure of non-smokers to harmful second-hand cigarette smoke.
Lastly, when it comes to encouraging people to switch to healthier habits, it appears respondents believe cost plays a significant factor. In an interesting switch-up from the fact that many people think cigarette smokers should pay elevated taxes for placing a large burden on the NHS, more than half (59%) think vaping products should be tax-free to encourage people to change their habit.