More than two out of every five smokers who redeemed a voucher for a free e-cigarette starter kit had stopped smoking within a month as part of a pilot scheme designed to help people quit.
Smokers in Norfolk, who had failed in past attempts to quit, were referred to a specialist stop smoking service and offered a £25 voucher which could be exchanged for a vaping starter pack as part of the trial.
The scheme, initially targeted in Great Yarmouth, saw patients referred in by either their GP, self-referral or via another health service.
People were given advice and support and were required to cover the ongoing costs of using e-cigarettes themselves.
In total, 668 participants were referred to the scheme between December 2019 and July 2021, and 340 of them redeemed a voucher for a vape starter kit.
Of the 340 who redeemed a voucher, 143 participants (42%) had quit smoking by four weeks.
The mean age of referrals was 41.4 years old.
The scheme, funded by Norfolk County Council, has been rolled out across the county and the research team hope it could be rolled out nationally to help more smokers quit.
Lead researcher Prof Caitlin Notley, from the University of East Anglia's (UEA) Norwich Medical School, said: "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.
"Our research has previously shown that they may be particularly helpful in helping people to not only quit, but to stay quit for good.
"We wanted to see whether GPs giving out vape shop vouchers, alongside support from the stop smoking service, can help smokers quit.
"We particularly wanted to target vulnerable and disadvantaged smokers who had failed to quit smoking by other means."
She continued: "This scheme enabled 42 per cent of entrenched smokers who redeemed a voucher to have successfully quit smoking at four weeks.
"This is especially important because it helped those who have tried and failed to quit smoking many times to move away from tobacco.
"Overall, the project was well received by smokers as it offered an affordable route into vaping.
"GPs supported the scheme and appreciated being able to offer an alternative to entrenched smokers."
The study was commissioned by Norfolk County Council and led by UEA, with researchers collaborating with the public health team and the local stop smoking service Smokefree Norfolk.
Their research, titled A pilot E-cigarette Voucher Scheme In A Rural County Of The United Kingdom, is published in the journal Nicotine And Tobacco Research.
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