Skip to main content

E-cigarettes: Regulation

Volume 769: debated on Monday 7 March 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what effect they expect Article 20 of the 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive, when implemented in May, to have on the rate at which people give up smoking by the use of vaping devices.

The tobacco products directive, which will come into force from May this year, will provide a new regulatory framework for vaping devices and e-liquids, assuring their safety and quality. The Government recognise that e-cigarettes can help people to quit smoking and that quitting smoking completely is the best thing a smoker can do for their health.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Given that the Prime Minister said in the other place that 1 million people have given up smoking as a result of taking up vaping— including, I believe, my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara—given that the public health benefits are in the order of £74 billion, and given that the main loser from this is the pharmaceutical industry, which is seeing falls in the sales of patches and gums, does he agree with me that pharmaceutical industry lobbying may be behind the attempt to regulate these products too heavily and possibly to shackle them with an excise tax? Could he give a Department of Health estimate of the size of the black market that is likely to result from this directive and whether or not it will result in people going back to smoking?

My Lords, the benefits of e-cigarettes are well understood. The figure of 1 million people who have given up smoking by taking up e-cigarettes is a valid and true one. The tobacco regulation that the noble Viscount refers to does not have any proposals for an excise tax—it purely relates to ensuring that these products are used safely and are of a given quality.

My Lords, the Minister will know that the impact of this directive is to make it much more difficult for e-cigarettes to be promoted. Why is that, given the clear benefit to public health? The answer is that public health programmes can substitute for it—but this Government have slashed those programmes. Given the Prime Minister’s success in EU negotiations about a change in direction, can the Minister confirm that we will not now have to implement Article 20 if we do not want to?

My Lords, this directive originated partly because a number of European countries wanted to ban these products. The fact that there is a directive, which will lead to a regulated market, means that British manufacturers will have access to those large European markets. As I understand it, the main issue that the noble Lord may be concerned about is that where the nicotine content goes above 20 micrograms per millilitre, there will have to be MHRA approval, which may mean that the higher strength nicotine substitutes are less readily available. But that is done on safety grounds.

My Lords, I have already been mentioned during this Question. I am one of those who smoked for many years but has not had a cigarette now for two years because I have taken up using one of these devices. Can my noble friend tell me why these devices are included at all in the tobacco products directive, because they are not a tobacco product?

I also congratulate the noble Lord on giving up cigarettes and taking up these other products. I do not know whether he has tried unicorn blood or crab leg flavours, but a multitude of flavours is available on the market. The directive has come about purely because of the feeling that although nicotine is better than smoking, it is not perfect.

My Lords, although these products are clearly much less harmful than smoking tobacco, they are not entirely harmless. They have a lot of noxious chemicals in them. What are the Government doing to inform people about the research on the potential hazards of these products, including the reduction in resistance to infections, reduction in fertility and changes in behaviour patterns?

My Lords, as I said, these new products are not perfect but are substantially better than smoking cigarettes. One of the purposes of the new directive is that there should be proper labelling on the products.

My Lords, the noble Lord dismissed the idea of an excise tax, but there is a strong rumour that the EU intends to impose a tax on these products. Will the Government do everything they can to counteract this counterproductive suggestion?

My Lords, as I said, there is no proposal for an excise duty as part of the tobacco directive, as I understand it. I would agree entirely with the intent behind the question, which is that we should be promoting this product not discouraging it.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, following on from what my noble friend said at the beginning, these vapers ensure that there is no harmful effect from passive smoking, which you normally get from cigarettes? In addition, research in New Zealand shows that they are a far better way to come off smoking than placebos or patches, which saves the NHS money. Is this not just another example of a badly thought through draft directive?

My Lords, I think there is evidence that e-cigarettes are more effective than, or as effective as, nicotine replacement therapies, and that my noble friend is right that there is no danger from passive smoking, which is why the inability to smoke in public places does not apply to e-cigarettes.

My Lords, do we really need this sort of interfering directive from Brussels? Are we incapable of looking after vaping devices ourselves?

My Lords, we are capable of looking after vaping devices on our own, but if we ever want to sell into the European market, we will have to abide by those regulations.

My Lords, is it not perfectly obvious that big business is lobbying Brussels to shut out competition, that e-cigarettes cost less, which limits the impact of highly regressive taxes on tobacco, and that they enable people to save their health? Will my noble friend admit that the Government are powerless to do anything about this?

No, I do not admit that the Government are powerless to do anything about this. I do not believe that the origins of this directive have anything to do with limiting competition; they are based in trying to have a regulated market where safety and quality are guaranteed.