One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a “swap to stop” scheme described by ministers as a world first.
Vape starter kits will be offered to almost one in five of all smokers in England under a push to make the nation “smoke free”, ministers announced on Tuesday.
Campaigners welcomed the measures as “welcome steps in the right direction” but said they are “nowhere near sufficient”.
Experts widely expect the pledge to get the nation smoke free by 2030, equating to getting smoking rates to less than 5%, to be missed without further action.
Health minister Neil O’Brien will launch the new schemes in a speech on Tuesday.
“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.”
A choice of products, strengths and flavours will be on offer to allow smokers to find the best product for them.
Officials say this is the first scheme of its kind to be rolled out nationwide.
Funding for the stop to swap scheme – estimated by officials to cost around £45 million over two years – will come from the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget.
Officials say 9% of women still smoke during pregnancy in England and hope a financial incentive alongside behavioural support will get all of them to stop by the end of the year.
While the details are yet to be determined, officials expect vouchers will be available throughout pregnancy and could total up to £400 if they complete the scheme.
Last year, a major review led by Dr Javed Khan said smoking should be banned in outdoor spaces such as beer gardens, cafe pavements and beaches.
It also said vaping should be promoted as a means to help people stop using tobacco.
But he acknowledged vapes are not a “silver bullet”, nor are they “totally risk free”, though the alternative of smoking was said to be far worse.
Ms Arnott said “not enough has changed” since the report was published and said funding is “desperately needed to reinstate cuts of more than 90% to mass media campaigns”.
“Not to mention the absence of the tougher regulations Khan recommended to raise the age of sale, and reduce the appeal of smoking as well as vaping,” she added.
Sarah MacFadyen, from charity Asthma + Lung UK, said “vaping isn’t going to work for everyone” and that smokers need “stop-smoking services offering personalised support, funded properly through a tobacco industry levy”.
The latest announcement comes on top of plans to crack down on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s.