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Electronic Cigarettes (Branding, Promotion and Advertising)

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2023

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the branding, promotion and advertising of electronic cigarettes, for the purpose of preventing electronic cigarettes from being marketed in a way which appeals to children; and for connected purposes.

We are seeing a rapid and very concerning increase in underage vaping. A recent study by Action on Smoking and Health found that in the past three years the number of children taking part in experimental vaping has increased by 50%. One in five 11 to 15-year-olds in England used vapes in 2021, a figure that is likely to be significantly higher now. Alongside this has come significant growth in the awareness of e-cigarette promotions, with 85% of children now conscious of e-cigarette marketing either in shops or online.

We can see how this has happened. In every single one of the constituencies we represent, on high streets and in town centres up and down the country, there are vaping shops where the shelves and window displays are filled with brightly coloured packaging and products. The packaging mimics popular brands, with flavours of sweets like gummy bears, Skittles and tutti-frutti, or soft drinks like cherry cola, or emblazoned with images of cartoon characters. The problem is just as widespread online, with vapes being openly promoted to children on social media sites, drawing them into experimental vaping so that they become addicted to nicotine. The marketing strategy is clear to see: the products are designed to be attractive to children, to draw them in when they are very young so that they will become addicted to vaping and then become long-term customers.

Vaping has shifted from a smoking cessation tool to a recreational activity in its own right. It is driven by the rapacious desire of tobacco companies—which fund many of the largest e-cigarette suppliers—to keep making a profit from the highly addictive substance of nicotine.

There is evidence that the approach is working for the companies profiting from vapes, with new data from the Office for National Statistics this week showing that the increase in children and young people vaping is already feeding through into a dramatic increase in young adults vaping, with a particularly sharp increase in the number of young women using vapes.

The important role of vaping in smoking cessation has led to a widespread perception that it is a harmless activity, rather than a less harmful activity than smoking. It is not harmless. Last year, 40 children were admitted to hospital for suspected vaping-related disorders. Young people using e-cigarettes are twice as likely to suffer from a chronic cough than non-users. There are reports that nicotine dependency contributes to cognitive and attention deficit conditions and worsens mood disorders.

Concerns about vaping are being widely raised by teachers and parents in a way that was not the case just a couple of years ago. Schools are installing heat sensors in addition to smoke detectors in school toilets, taking steps to stop children constantly leaving the classroom to vape, and managing the impacts of addiction to nicotine on the mood and concentration levels of their students.

The sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is already illegal, but the dramatic increase in the number of young people vaping shows that the current legislation is completely ineffective, so we must learn from the substantive evidence on what worked in reducing smoking rates among children. In 1982, when smoking rates among children first started being monitored in England, one in five children were current smokers—the same as the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds now vaping. Eighteen years later, despite substantial advertising campaigns to educate young people on the dangers of smoking, the proportion was exactly the same. That was not because children were not educated about the dangers, but because some adolescents are more susceptible to taking risks.

Between 2000 and 2021, smoking rates among children fell from 19% to just 3%—not because of better education or enforcement of the existing prohibition on the sale of cigarettes to children, but because the regulatory framework during that time ratcheted up year by year. Under the last Labour Government, all point-of-sale advertising and display of tobacco was prohibited. A comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy was implemented by HMRC and UK Border Force, which reduced sales of illicit tobacco, and cigarettes were put in standardised packaging with all the brightly coloured glamourised imagery removed.

What is true for the strategy to tackle smoking is true for the challenge of vaping. Without much tougher regulation, we will not succeed in driving down vaping among children and young people. Regulations on packaging, advertising and labelling are essential. It is disappointing that the Government refused to support the amendment to the Health and Care Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) in November 2021, which would have prohibited branding that appeals to children on packaging. The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee wrote to the Secretary of State in July stating:

“Decisive action is needed from both Government and industry to protect children from the harmful effects of vaping.”

An Opposition day debate in July also served to demonstrate the high level of cross-party consensus on this issue, yet the Government have still not announced any action to address it.

A series of important and complex issues relating to e-cigarettes, in addition to their impacts on children, also require Government attention. They include the harmful impact of disposable vapes as a source of plastic pollution and the fire hazard caused by the presence of batteries within the vape casing. There is also the alarming rise in the number of 18 to 25-year-olds who have never been smokers using e-cigarettes as a recreational activity in their own right. That also requires urgent attention. I hope the Government will come forward with a wider strategy to address these issues and that we will be able to scrutinise them in this House, but there can be no disagreement that urgent action is needed right now to stop the sale of vapes to children and to halt the number of children who are becoming addicted to nicotine.

No one wants to undermine the vital role of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation—smoking remains far more harmful than vaping and a major threat to health—but brightly coloured branding, advertising, names and imagery specifically designed to make vaping products attractive to children are not remotely necessary for vapes to be readily available to those who can benefit from vaping as a smoking cessation tool. My Bill is designed to deliver rapid action on an issue on which there is broad consensus and that is presenting itself with increasing urgency in families, schools and communities right across the country.

My Bill would ban e-cigarettes from being advertised, branded and packaged to appeal directly to children, including online. We know this will work, because the same approach was so effective in reducing smoking in children. We can act now to stop the harms of nicotine addiction to the physical and mental health of children and young people. I hope that the Government will choose to support this Bill and take the action needed to protect children’s health. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That Helen Hayes, Andrew Gwynne, Rachael Maskell, Alex Cunningham, Mary Kelly Foy, Mrs Paulette Hamilton, Kirsten Oswald, Maggie Throup, Caroline Nokes, Dr Caroline Johnson, Daisy Cooper and Peter Gibson present the Bill.

Helen Hayes accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 358).

The Speaker’s Absence


That the Speaker have leave of absence on Thursday 7 September to attend the G7 Speakers’ Conference.—(Penny Mordaunt.)