Are NHS vape kits the way to help people quit smoking?

Are NHS vape kits the way to help people quit smoking?
© iStock/AndreyPopov

A new study from the University of East Anglia has proposed that NHS vape starter kits could help people quit smoking.  

Researchers worked with General Practitioners (GPs) and the NHS stop smoking service to create a pilot vape shop voucher scheme to help patients quit smoking. The scheme was aimed at ‘hardened smokers’ who had tried and failed to quit smoking in the past.   

An evaluation of the scheme, funded by Norfolk County Council, found the programme to be a success. Forty-Two percent of the smokers who were referred to the scheme redeemed their vape vouchers and had quit smoking within a month. 

“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” said Professor Caitlin Notley, Lead researcher and addiction expert from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. 

The number of people trying to quit smoking are down

The team worked with GPs in Great Yarmouth and the collaboration was welcomed by Norfolk’s director of Public Health Dr Louise Smith. The study identified patients with co-morbidities who had previously failed to quit smoking. It is estimated that around 21% of people in Great Yarmouth smoke tobacco, compared to 14% in the rest of Norfolk, and 15% nationally. Around 5,000 people quit smoking each year in the UK according to Dr Smith However, this decreased to 3,840 last year, a drop Dr Smith puts down to the pandemic.  

668 participants took part in the pilot scheme, each receiving a vape shop voucher that could be redeemed for an initial starter kit from a local vape shop. 340 of the 668 participants redeemed their vouchers. Participants also received advice about e-liquid strengths and flavours, as well as additional support from Smokefree Norfolk 

“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,” said Professor Notley. “This scheme enabled 42% of entrenched smokers who redeemed a voucher to have successfully quit smoking at four weeks,” she added. 

The vape scheme is well received by GPs

Participants were interviewed by the researchers and Smokefree Norfolk after the trial. Feedback from participants was largely positive, identifying the affordability of the scheme as a key reason for its success. As well as this, the scheme was well received by GPs who were happy to be able to offer an alternative scheme for entrenched smokers.  

“Our research has previously shown that they may be particularly helpful in helping people to not only quit but to stay quit for good” concluded Professor Notley. Researchers are optimistic the scheme will be rolled out nationally to help more people quit smoking.

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