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Smoking: Vaping

Volume 787: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of Public Health England’s decision to include vaping within its stop smoking campaign for 2017, they will review vaping regulations in line with the commitment in the Tobacco Control Plan for England; and if so, when.

My Lords, the Government are committed to a review of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 by May 2021. There is limited scope for amending the regulations in advance of the UK exiting the EU, so the Government envisage a review taking place after 29 March 2019. Protecting the public’s health will be the priority in any review.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer but I am a little disappointed. Given the strong evidence that vaping is much safer than smoking, that it is very effective at getting people off smoking and that the strength of the vaping industry in this country is one of the main reasons why we are now the second-lowest smoking country in Europe, and given that the Government promised some sensible deregulation in the tobacco control plan, does the Minister share my regret that the EU’s tobacco products directive restricts advertising in particular, making it very hard for vaping companies in this country to bring to smokers the news of the health benefits that can come from it? Will he consider a public information campaign to bring the country’s attention to what vaping can do? Will he perhaps also consider giving clear advice to businesses and councils that they should not be treating vapers as smokers?

The noble Viscount is right to highlight the benefits of vaping: it is considerably safer than smoking and is a very effective quitting aid. There is no particular evidence that it encourages people to take up smoking or to transition into smoking. Government policy has, obviously, been made under the EU regulatory framework—and we think that it is pragmatic and evidence based. Direct advertising is, as he will know, banned, but the department, Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority are looking at the current guidelines in this area. I should point out that Public Health England includes in its public health campaigns positive messages about the relative benefits of vaping, so that message is getting out. In the end we must beware of renormalising the act of smoking, even if with a different device, particularly for children, so there is a balance to be struck.

My Lords, lest Brexiteer noble Lords get too excited, will the Minister confirm that it was the British Government who pressed the EU for draconian regulations, and the EU modified what Britain wanted? We should beware repatriation of those regulations.

I will only talk about what I know, and what I know to be coming up, which is that we want to take a pragmatic and evidence-based approach. Other countries are looking at the balance we strike in this country with allowing smoking and vaping to take place—and indeed, positively encouraging vaping. I think our approach is sensible.

My Lords, the noble Viscount made a good point, because the same European legislation also brought in a ban on all small tobacco packs, which had a devastating impact, particularly on small local shops. Will the Minister therefore commit to reversing the ban on small packs once we have left the European Union? I declare my interest as set out in the register.

I am afraid I shall have to disappoint the noble Lord there. Our broad approach on restricting the advertising and sale of tobacco has been incredibly successful: we have very low smoking rates in this country, and they are falling all the time. We have ambitious goals to reduce smoking prevalence, including a long-term goal of reducing it to less than 5% of adults, and I am not convinced that what he describes would help.

Can my noble friend explain the advertising point to me, as one who has given up smoking through vaping? I have not had a cigarette for three and a half years. I tried patches, I tried chewing gum, and I even went to a hypnotist. None of those worked. Can my noble friend tell me why those three things are allowed to be advertised, although they do not work, whereas vaping, which does work, is not?

The noble Lord is right; we are looking at the guidelines at the moment, with Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority. There are limits on what we can do on vaping under the current regulations, but we will have the opportunity to look again at this issue as we leave the European Union, and reconsider our domestic legislation.

My Lords, vaping has proved an effective way for many people to give up smoking tobacco—but there are, of course, no inherent health benefits in taking up vaping if one is not already addicted to nicotine. Does the Minister agree that we should seek regulations that allow the promotion of vaping solely as an alternative to smoking tobacco, and not something that people not already addicted to nicotine should be encouraged to take up? Can he tell us when Public Health England will publish its report on e-cigarettes, which was due in 2017?

I think that the noble Lord is making the point that we need a balanced approach. We want to emphasise the relative health benefits, but we must also recognise that harmful effects can come from nicotine in itself. Obviously, we want to get to a position in which people are not smoking and not taking nicotine at all, and the relative benefits of the different ways people can go about that are taken into account. I think that the UK has a sensible approach. I am afraid that I do not have the date when the Public Health England report will be published, but I will write to the noble Lord with that information.

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Ridley said, vaping has been hugely successful in getting 2.8 million Brits—myself included—off smoking tobacco. Snus, however, has been even more successful in reducing tobacco use in Sweden: 5% of Swedes still smoke tobacco, compared with 16% of Britons and 24% across the EU states. Given the success and safety of snus, why can we not use it in this country?

My noble friend is quite right to point out that vaping is a British success story as an anti-smoking aid, and it has made a huge contribution not just to noble Lords but to around 2.5 million e-cigarette users, half of whom used to smoke. There is, of course, as he will no doubt be aware, a court challenge going on at the moment. It is under consideration by the CJEU, and we expect a judgment in the summer of 2018, so I am unfortunately not in a position to comment until we have that judgment.

Could the Minister possibly encourage his colleagues to consider publishing a list of EU regulations which are there primarily because British lobbies with the support of British Ministers have pushed them on to the EU? I am thinking in particular of animal welfare, as well as a lot of health and smoking regulations. It would help to educate opinion in this country as to what sort of regulations might be likely to diverge after we leave, and which will not.

Anyone who really wants to find out how many regulations there are provided by the EU can find that online, and I am sure that it would be a wonderful way to spend a weekend. I am just going to bother myself with the ones that have been dedicated to the health area. We are, of course, looking at everything within that realm to make sure that, when we leave the European Union, we end up with the best possible health regime.