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Volume 793: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to restrict or ban the advertising or sale of flavoured nicotine vaping fluids.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare that I hold shares in British American Tobacco, which are below the threshold for registration.

My Lords, strong controls are already in place. Vaping fluids containing nicotine are regulated through the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, which include measures to restrict their use by children. The nicotine inhaling products regulations 2015 make it illegal to sell such liquids to anyone under the age of 18. The Advertising Standards Authority includes a provision in its codes to ensure that advertisers do not target or feature children.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, the regulations do not seem to be working. Flavours include bubblegum, sherbet lemon, unicorn blood and strawberry delight, and come in colourful packaging with cartoon characters and pictures of sweets, for use with high-tech shiny gadgets. It would be hard to design something that was more appealing to children. According to recent tests, four in 10 retailers are willing to sell without age restrictions. In the US, the FDA says that underage use has surged recently and reached epidemic proportions. Does the Minister agree with the commissioner of the FDA, who said:

“I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products”?

Will he please look again at the rules and how they are enforced, just as the US is now doing aggressively, before we too have an epidemic of childhood nicotine addiction?

The FDA has certainly said that it is facing an epidemic of childhood use, but the numbers are quite stark in their difference. In America, many more young people use e-cigarettes compared to in this country, where only 2% of 11 to 18 year-olds are using once a week. Generally, those are young people who smoke already—around 7% of 15 year-olds smoke. America did not restrict tank sizes until recently, but we did; it did not restrict bottle sizes, but we did; it did not ban advertising, but we did; and it does not have restrictions on nicotine, but we do. We have a very sensible system. I am not complacent about the need to make sure that young people do not use, which we are not seeing yet, and there are severe restrictions and punishments for any retailer who sells such products to children.

My Lords, is it not clear from the evidence that, while we have to be very careful about use by young people, this is the most successful tobacco prevention or stopping measure we have ever had? It is important that we keep a measure of balance in our approach to this.

I completely agree with the noble Lord, and I think that we have the right balance: 57,000 people a year quit smoking through e-cigarette use and that is just about the most important thing you can do to improve your health.

Is my noble friend aware that the majority of people who use e-cigarettes—an enormous majority—are those, like myself, who have given up smoking cigarettes, and those who are trying to give up smoking cigarettes? All health professionals now recognise that e-cigarettes are the way forward and the best way to give up smoking. To introduce a ban on the sale of vaping liquids would be a complete catastrophe. Not only would people go back to smoking but those who wanted to give up would have no incentive to do so.

I completely agree with my noble friend. Interestingly, ONS data shows that 48% of people said that the main reason for using an e-cigarette was as an aid to stop smoking, and just 1.5% cited the range of flavours available as their main reason.

My Lords, the European tobacco products directive bans all broadcast media in the EU from advertising e-cigarettes. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government’s post-Brexit plans are?

Our post-Brexit plans are the same as our pre-Brexit plans—to have a sensible policy which provides e-cigarettes to stop smoking and to make sure that they are not abused by people who should not be using them.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, asked a legitimate Question about the flavoured nicotine substitutes that are on sale. If the Minister believes that we might see the emergence of vape flavours such as unicorn milk and rocket popsicles—which can only be designed to appeal to young people—can he confirm that the Government have plans for dealing with that?

I am not sure who unicorn milk would appeal to—maybe my five year-old, but she is not smoking yet. Seriously, the point here is about advertising. It is quite right that they cannot be advertised to promote them but they can be advertised for public health reasons. They are incredibly effective at stopping people smoking. As I have said, we are not seeing the kind of abuse and the epidemic of youth usage that we have seen in the States, but we are alert to any signs that that may be the case.

My Lords, the Minister’s joke makes the point. Does he agree that such flavours appeal to children and one needs to be careful about that?

The right reverend Prelate is right. However, as I say, we do not see evidence of what is going on in the States happening in this country. The reason for that is that we have many more restrictions, and the US is now playing catch-up by introducing them.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the consequences of the welcome ban on smoking in public places is that when you go out of a hospital or an airport you face a curtain of smoke and a carpet of fag ends? Will the noble Lord, as Health Minister, with his colleagues, do something about ensuring that that does not take place and that there are secluded places for people to smoke where the rest of us do not have to go?

I agree with the noble Lord from personal experience. Organisations are encouraged to make sure that there are outside places for people to smoke which are in discreet areas and do not interrupt others.

My Lords, vaping has been a phenomenal success in helping millions of people like myself to stop smoking or to cut down. What plans does the Minister’s department has after Brexit to remove the restrictions imposed by the EU’s tobacco products directive?

I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend but at this point we do not have any specific plans. We have a sensible policy which allows the promotion of e-cigarettes to help people stop smoking but does not encourage people to take them up in the first place, which may lead to smoking. We have struck the right balance at the moment.