The government is going in hard trying to stop people from smoking. Today they’ve announced a harm reduction blitz that’ll involve handing out free vaping starter kits to a million smokers. Not only that, they’ll be offering anyone who’s pregnant £400 to stop smoking and they hope to put advice on how to quit inside packs.
It’s 2023, so everyone knows how fucked up smoking is. If you’re lighting up you run the risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions. It causes seven out of 10 cases of lung cancer. Which is why, in 2019, before Covid slithered its way into every facet of society like a well-timed political meme, the government declared that it would end smoking.
By that, they meant they hoped to reduce the amount of smokers down to fewer than 5 per cent of the overall population by 2030. In 2021, the figure was 13 per cent, which is the lowest it’s ever been, but the government is still not on track for meeting their 2030 “smoke-free” target. Any reduction in smoking is welcome; after all, it’s a shit habit – it doesn’t even get you high and every year around 76,000 people in the UK die from it.
What has the government said?
“Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking,” a quote attributed to MP Neil O’Brien, the Health Minister, read on the government statement about the initiative. “Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill you if used correctly.” It’s a good line.
He went on to say: “We will offer a million smokers new help to quit. We will be funding a new national ‘swap to stop’ scheme – the first of its kind in the world. We will work with councils and others to offer a million smokers across England a free vaping starter kit.”
What are doctors saying?
“Ultimately, the best thing for your lungs to breathe is air,” an NHS doctor I know, in her twenties and on strike today, which we support wholeheartedly, told THE FACE. “But if you’re already smoking cigarettes, swapping them for vapes could help you quit and is better for your health, based on the evidence we have right now.”
For the minority of people who don’t die from their smoking habit they can still end up with debilitating smoking-related illnesses. The one that sticks in my mind is what is sometimes referred to as ‘smoking your legs off’. “Smoking cigarettes puts you at increased risk of lots of cancers,” the same doctor told me. “It also makes it more likely for your arteries to clot and become inflamed, leading to heart attacks, strokes and poor circulation to your peripherals. I’ve seen people lose limbs because they lose blood supply to their legs from smoking and have to get them amputated.”
Wait. If that isn’t an incentive to quit I don’t know what is. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to be the person who is asking to be pushed outside the hospital in a wheelchair, spluttering and gasping, to smoke a cigarette after they’ve smoked their legs off. Imagine the scene: inhaling, looking down at the space where your legs used to be, inhaling again, looking at your tobacco-stained fingers clasping the cigarette end, inhaling once more, and so on. The legs have been smoked away, like angry bees being smoked out of their hive. God, that’s a sad scene – send me one of the free vapes.
Is it a good idea?
Yes. It’s estimated that it will cost £45 million (not a lot of money, the government probably spends more on Post Its). And, as a society, we’re probably going to save a lot more when you consider that we won’t have to deal with people falling over like pins at a bowling alley. Let’s just hope that there’s a good recycling scheme in place, as we know that vapes can be horribly destructive to the environment.
If you’re going to wage a war on smoking, this is a good way to go about it. Avoiding draconian measures like fines and criminalisation and instead focusing on providing an effective educational message is the way to go. Tobacco users will be invited to engage in a reassessment of the cost/benefit ratio when it comes to their habit. Then going a step further and providing the user with the equipment needed to make that change is an uncharacteristically clever move from the government. This is harm reduction in progress; it shows the government can listen to evidence and use it to inform policy. Hopefully, one day they’ll do it with illegal drugs, too.
For more information on the harms of smoking, visit the NHS’s website here.