Tobacco and Vapes Bill

I was pleased to vote in favour of the Government Bill at Second reading on the bill with the full title: A Bill to Make provision about the supply of tobacco, vapes and other products, including provision prohibiting the sale of tobacco to people born on or after 1 January 2009; and to enable product requirements to be imposed in connection with tobacco, vapes and other products. The Bill was debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024.

The proposals are to raise the age of sale for tobacco. Despite significant progress in driving down smoking rates over the past 40 years, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death. It causes around 150 cancer cases daily and kills one person every five minutes. Those deaths are made more tragic by the fact that they are avoidable. Creating a smoke-free society would empower people to live happier, longer, and healthier lives, and substantially reduce pressure on our NHS. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill proposes raising the age of sale for tobacco products, to prevent individuals born on or after 1 January 2009 from legally buying cigarettes in England. This would effectively raise the smoking age by one year, every year, until it applies to the whole population. Wider measures in the Bill include restricting the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children. The Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary first proposed the smoking ban in January 2023 and has long argued for a ban on the sale, marketing and promoting of vapes to children.

I welcome and support the Bill. It includes measures that my colleagues and I have long supported, and I am pleased ministers are following suit. I am only disappointed that the Prime Minister is allowing his own MPs a free vote, failing to convince them of the argument for these important reforms. Cancer Research UK warns that England is almost a decade behind its target of a smoke-free society by 2030. I am concerned by the Government’s lack of progress: NHS stop smoking services have suffered a 45% real-terms budget cut since 2015/16; and ministers opposed legislative amendments for the regulation of prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers, with the funds raised used to reduce smoking prevalence. Restricting the sale for tobacco products is welcome. But we also need bold measures to support current smokers to quit, to improve public health and build a healthier and fairer future. I recognise the value of public health measures that will help people live well for longer and I am committed to a long-term plan for reform of our health service, shifting the focus of care into the community, and putting prevention and early intervention at its heart.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) position on e-cigarettes. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an international treaty developed to combat the global tobacco epidemic. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the FCTC is the governing body of the treaty. It meets every two years and COP10 – the tenth meeting – took place in Panama in February 2024, delayed from November 2023. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death. E-cigarettes can be valuable as an aid to help smokers quit. They are part of the drive towards a smoke-free society and evidence shows a positive association with quit success. Vaping is not completely risk-free, however, particularly for people who have never smoked, and evidence is mostly limited to short- and medium-term effects. I am particularly concerned about the rising prevalence of e-cigarette use among children.

It is important that we strike a delicate balance between supporting smokers in their journey towards a smoke-free future while safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our youth. E-cigarettes are one measure that should sit within a broader public health strategy to help people live well for longer. But I fully support a ban on vapes being branded and advertised in a way that appeals to children. And I believe we should work collaboratively with local councils and the NHS to ensure e-cigarettes are being used as a stop smoking aide, rather than a new form of smoking. I hope that ministers, via their role in the WHO, will push harder for stronger and clearer messages, based on the latest data and evidence, and seek to regulate this market in a way that promotes quality and safety, while protecting young people. If we want to build a healthier and fairer future, we need bold measures to tackle smoking and improve public health. I am committed to a long-term plan for reform of our health service, shifting the focus of care into the community, and putting prevention and early intervention at its heart. Under the plan, public health services would be supported with the resources they need to improve population health and tackle inequalities.

Results of the Votes: Ayes 383: Noes 67 the Bill passed its Second reading and now goes into the Committee stage.