ALMOST half of all smokers in the Bristol region will be offered free vape starter kits on the NHS as part of a “world-first” drive to help people kick the habit.
The local health partnership has successfully bid for £2.2 million from the Government to pay for 60,000 devices.
The aim is to help smokers switch from cigarettes to vapes, which are considered much safer, the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Integrated Care Partnership board heard.
There are an estimated 144,320 tobacco users across the area, with 60 per cent of these in the city.
BNSSG has set itself a target to be “Smokefree” – which it defines as smoking rates of under 5% of the adult population – by the year 2031.
But this requires about 24,000 smokers to quit every year until then, the BNSSG board meeting was told on November 29.
The pioneering free e-cigarettes initiative, called Swap to Stop, was announced by the Government in April and the partnership’s bid has just been approved.
Public health consultant Samuel Hayward told board members that Bristol had the highest smoking rate in the South West, caused partly by the legacy of the tobacco industry.
He said: “The evidence is clear that, for smokers, nicotine vaping is a far less risky option and poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking in the short and medium term.
“Vaping should be offered as an alternative for smoking but not as an activity which is appealing to the wider non-smoking population.
“Vaping is not for children – we need to reduce the uptake of vaping and the number of young people accessing vape products.”
Mr Hayward said the vapes would be given out by existing specialist stop-smoking services.
Director of public health Matt Lenny said: “This is a significant opportunity for us. We really welcome the change in policy and investment in services.”
Board chairman Jeff Farrar said: “This is excellent and is really about what we have been trying to do.”
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service