SMOKERS will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for free vapes as part of a pioneering new scheme designed to cut Barnsley’s higher-than-average smoking rates.

The Chronicle can reveal members of the South Area Council made up of wards including Darfield, Hoyland Milton, Rockingham and Wombwell were the first in the town to discuss a government-backed project to offer e-cigarettes to drive up the number of residents classed as ex-smokers.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures recorded the lowest proportion of smokers in the UK to date, with e-cigarettes said to be playing a ‘major role’ in the decline.

However, the data shows 17 per cent of people aged over 18 in Barnsley still smoke although it is a fall from 20.6 per cent five years ago.

Last year, 25.6 per cent of adults in the area were classed as ex-smokers while 57.4 per cent had never smoked.

A council report said: “Smoking remains the largest single-risk factor for death and is a leading cause of health inequalities.

“Alternative nicotine delivery devices, such as vaping products, could play a crucial role in reducing the enormous burden caused by smoking cigarettes.

“Evidence to date shows that e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful than cigarettes and can be effective for helping people quit smoking.

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“A greater emphasis needs to be placed on how best to communicate evidence of relative harm to smokers so that they can consider all the options available to them to quit smoking completely.

“There is strong evidence that nicotine vaping products such as e-cigarettes are effective for smoking cessation and reduction.

“Leading health and public health organisations including the Royal College of General Practitioners, British Medical Association and Cancer Research UK agree, based on available evidence, that although not risk-free, e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking.”

According to a Barnsley Council report, 51 per cent of smokers have stopped cigarette use completely due to vaping.

Due to the success, councillors could hand out vaping kits as part of a smoke-free, so-called ‘swap-to-stop’ scheme by 2030, which will target the most at-risk communities in the town before potential roll-outs across remaining area councils.

As part of the plans a choice of products, strengths and flavours will be on offer to allow adult smokers to find the best alternative for them, according to the government.

Coun Caroline Makinson, cabinet spokesperson for public health and communities, added: “We’re committed to making smoking invisible in our borough, with only 17 per cent of people in Barnsley currently smoking, and we’re working closely with partners to keep this number coming down.

“I’m delighted to see Barnsley topping the tables regionally for helping people to successfully quit smoking.

“Quitting smoking is not just great for your health and wellbeing but, as the rising cost of living continues to impact our communities, it can really help your wallet too.

“We could not do this alone, so I would like to thank our NHS partners for all they do to help people quit smoking for good there’s no better time to start your quitting journey.”

Julia Burrows, executive director of public health, confirmed Barnsley Council is also working towards reducing the numbers of young vapers.

“We’re committed to making smoking invisible in our borough and we’re working closely with partners to keep the 17 per cent figure coming down,” she said.

“As part of the Tobacco Control Alliance, we’re sharing vaping resources to reduce recreational vaping.

“This includes a resource pack which has been shared among educational settings, family centres, youth groups and NHS teams.”