I beg to move,
That this House
is concerned that children are being inappropriately exposed to e-cigarette promotions and that under-age vaping has increased by 50% in just the last three years;
condemns the Government for its failure to act to protect children by voting against the addition of measures to prohibit branding which is appealing to children on e-cigarette packaging during the passage of the Health and Care Act 2022 and for failing to bring forward the tobacco control plan that it promised by the end of 2021; and therefore calls on the Government to ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children and to work with local councils and the NHS to help ensure that e-cigarettes are being used as an aid to stop smoking, rather than as a new form of smoking.
It is a pleasure to open this debate on behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition. We are witnessing an incredibly alarming rise in under-age vaping. In many ways, the statistics speak for themselves. A recent study conducted by Action on Smoking and Health found that in the last three years alone, the number of children taking part in so-called experimental vaping has increased by 50%. That has come alongside significant growth in awareness of e-cigarette promotions, with 85% of children now conscious of e-cigarette marketing either in shops or online.
What does that promotion look like? If hon. Members walk down any high street in the country and pop into a vaping shop or off-licence, they will see it at first hand. Brightly coloured e-liquids with names such as “blue razz”, “cherry cola” or “vampire vape” line the shelves. Some liquids are even designed to imitate well-known brands. We can find “Len & Jenny’s mint Oreo cookie” alongside “pick it mix it sherbet lemons”. In fact, it really is not an exaggeration to say that some stores selling vapes resemble old fashioned sweet shops, with pretty much any flavour we can think of covered in cartoon-led packaging. Let us make no mistake, this is not packaging marketed towards adults. It is deliberately designed to appeal to children and, most concerningly, it appears to be working.
Like my hon. Friend, I have been horrified to see custard, banana, bubble gum and doughnut-flavoured vapes, clearly targeted at younger palates. They are clearly not about helping people cease smoking. One of the challenges is that we know children are increasingly moving from vaping to actual cigarettes. Does he agree that there is no case for any further delay in the Government’s work to look at how we take vapes out of the hands of young people all together? Our generation all fought so hard against Nick O’Teen; now, we have Mr Vape to deal with. Does he agree that it must be an urgent public health priority?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a place for banana, custard and even doughnuts, but that is not on a vape package. She is right that we need to close the loophole and protect children’s health. That is why we have tabled this motion.
In a recent evidence session on youth vaping, Laranya Caslin, the headteacher at St George’s Academy in Sleaford, told the Health and Social Care Committee:
“we have a significant proportion of students vaping. They vape regularly”.
The problem is so bad that St George’s has had to change smoke sensors to heat sensors, to clamp down on young people leaving the classroom to vape.
I would love that to be an isolated case, but we all know, across the House, that it is not. In Hartlepool, concerns have been raised about an increase in primary school children using vapes—that is just shocking. In Devon, schools have reported confiscating e-cigarettes from children as young as seven. Those claims seem to be reinforced by the fact that last year 15 children aged nine or under were hospitalised due to vaping, with health experts warning that the excessive use of e-cigarettes in children could be linked to lung collapse, lung bleeding and air leak. In Yorkshire and the Humber, it is estimated that 30% of secondary school students have tried vaping, which equates to around 109,000 children. It is just staggering.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way. I have heard really shocking reports from parents and teachers in my constituency that children as young as 11 are using vapes and that one young person, at the age of 17, is now addicted. In the worst cases I am hearing, some young children are being targeted and are taking the vape apart to carry much harder drugs on the inside, which is causing an even bigger problem. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we simply cannot wait any longer? We need urgent action from the Government to stop that happening.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful case. Those are precisely the reasons why we have called this debate. It should shock each and every one of us. The ease of access to e-cigarettes for children, many younger than the ages she gave as an example, just cannot be allowed. We must be doing all we can on e-cigarettes, as we did to tackle the packaging and advertising of actual cigarettes, to ensure that children are weaned off their nicotine addiction and that other children do not start vaping in the first place.
My hon. Friend is making a very effective speech to open this debate. He quoted the figure of 30% for Yorkshire and the Humber. The figure for the north-west is 29%, which shows very little difference. Those figures are twice that for London, so it may be that some hon. Members are not aware of how bad the problem is getting. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned that youth vaping is fast becoming an epidemic. Worryingly, the number of children admitted to hospital as a result of vaping has almost quadrupled. Is my hon. Friend, as a fellow Greater Manchester MP, concerned about how many more children might suffer those health impacts before the Government take the action that is needed?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. As a Greater Manchester MP, I see the problem in my constituency and she will see it in hers. It concerns me greatly, because within our city region there are already communities that have some of the worst health inequalities. A lot of those health inequalities have been exacerbated by a higher than average prevalence of smoking. Even now, as smoking rates have declined, there are still communities in the areas we represent that have an abnormally high number of smokers. I do not want, in tackling smoking and reducing some of the health inequalities that are caused through smoking, to be storing up future problems with a new generation caused as a direct consequence of vaping or, more sinisterly, as a gateway to smoking later on in life. She is absolutely right.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way; he is making a very good speech. No one in this country has ever been shown to have died from vaping, whereas thousands of people die each year from smoking. Yes, the emphasis should be on stopping children from gaining access to vaping and dissuading adult non-smokers from taking up vaping, but does he agree that we should not lose sight of the benefits of vaping for adult smokers in giving up smoking and therefore leading a healthier lifestyle?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and later in my speech I will discuss the fact that vaping is a really important tool to assist people who want to stop smoking—indeed, Javed Khan, in his smoke-free 2030 review, made it clear that vaping has an important role to play in that respect. We certainly do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we absolutely should be ensuring that children’s access to vapes is restricted and that the marketing of vapes is not done in way that attracts a new cohort of people who would never have smoked or vaped. While vaping is better for people than smoking, not vaping is better than vaping or smoking, and we do not want to create new problems.
I am sure my hon. Friend has seen the study by King’s College London and Action on Smoking and Health on the attraction of vaping, which concluded that among teenagers de-branding vapes had a deterrent effect on their purchasing them, whereas it had no effect on adults. Does he agree with that study and does he support action being taken along those lines?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for succinctly stating the reason for this debate. That study is very clear: for adults, the appearance of the packaging makes no difference, but children and young people are attracted to the bright colours and cartoon characters and so on. The same arguments were made about smoking and led to us moving several years ago to standardised cigarette packaging. The evidence on children vaping is now so overwhelming that Parliament must take the lead. Industry will not act without a nudge from us. We must make sure that vapes are not packaged and advertised in a way that attracts children.
In a recent article penned for The Independent, a teacher in Oxfordshire described having been:
“rostered on to control numbers of students in the toilet block in an attempt to prevent the constant vaping that goes on in there.”
She went on to describe discovering
“a stash of over 50 vapes stored above a ceiling panel in the toilets—a tactic learnt and shared on TikTok.”
Worryingly, ASH estimates that most children who vape make the purchases themselves, despite it being illegal to sell vapes to those under the age of 18.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Only yesterday, I had a call from a head of year in Gowerton School in my constituency who wanted to know why the police and social services were not acting on his reports of sales of vapes in a barber’s shop in Swansea city centre. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is up to the police, social services and trading standards to take a stand and stop the face-to-face sale of vapes to under-age children?
Absolutely. There has to be a strategy that is not just about restricting packaging and advertising. There has to be more enforcement at the local level. I have some sympathy with local government, which has had to endure massive cuts over the past 13 years, so that things such as trading standards have been cut right back to the bone, but there can be no excuse whatsoever for shops selling these products to children. Every action should be taken to prevent that and to enforce the law.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and important speech, but he is focusing on advertising, marketing, the bright colours and the sweet flavours, and he has not mentioned price. Price promotions are banned for tobacco, yet vapes can sometimes be bought for three for £12, which is pocket money territory.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. We tabled the motion because we believe that the action it calls for is something we can do quickly, but the price of vapes is also a driver, and she is right that we should look into deals whereby vapes can be bought really cheaply—as she says, with pocket money—because that would be another step to take vaping out of the reach of children and young people.
As I said, ASH estimates that most children who vape make the purchases themselves. Put simply, children are then increasingly being hooked on to addictive substances that are deliberately packaged—and, indeed, sometimes priced—to catch their eye. This affects not only their health but their education.
Who could have seen it coming? Well, not the Government, it turns out. In November 2021, my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy tabled an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would have given the Secretary of State the power to prohibit branding that appeals to children on e-cigarette packaging. It received cross-party support but was voted down by the Government. When the Minister stands up in a few minutes and claims that the Government are on top of the epidemic of youth vaping, I hope he will explain to the House—to Members from all parties who supported that measure—why the Government voted down that sensible amendment in 2021, and why they are still failing to do something about this acute problem now.
Sadly, this approach to public health has become all too familiar when it comes to the Conservatives. We were promised a tobacco control plan; that was binned. We were promised a health disparities White Paper; that was binned. We were promised a ban on junk food advertising to children; that was binned. Why? Because the Prime Minister is too weak to take on those on the fringes of his own party who view public health with suspicion. That is why, on the Conservatives’ watch, health inequalities have widened, and why vaping companies have been given free rein to profit off children and young people.
The next Labour Government will not allow the trend to continue, which is why in Labour’s health mission we have been clear that we will ban the packaging and marketing of vapes to children, and we will come down like a ton of bricks on those who sell vapes illegally to children.
I agree with the shadow Minister that this is an increasingly serious issue that we must arrest. Does he agree that this is not just a health mission but an education mission? The surest reason why young people will now either give up and desist or not take up vaping is if they understand the harms and the risks, so the new education provision that the Government are helping to bring forward in schools, whereby children themselves will speak to their peers to communicate the risks, is a really important and welcome intervention.
Of course education has a role. When I went to secondary school, we were educated about the harms of smoking, although it did not stop a number of my peers becoming addicted to cigarettes—to nicotine and tobacco. Education has a role, then, but it does not have a full role. We only really clamped down on smoking and cut the numbers of people who smoke when we introduced regulations on smoking, including the smoking ban, which I am incredibly proud that a Labour Government introduced because it has had massive public health benefits for many people in the years since.
My hon. Friend Dr Whitehead referred to the research conducted by King’s College London in conjunction with ASH, which suggests that the removal of child-friendly imagery and colours on e-cigarettes can reduce their appeal to children while, crucially, not discouraging their use by adult smokers to quit. This is precisely the balance that the next Labour Government want to strike, so that vapes are used exclusively as a stop-smoking tool by adults, not as a way of getting young people hooked on highly addictive substances such as nicotine. I would hope that ambition was shared on both sides of the House but, unless the Minister changes his mind at the Dispatch Box, the Government are still refusing to commit to a promotion ban. That is bizarre because, in a recent interview, the Prime Minister was asked about the marketing of vapes to children, and he said:
“It looks like they are targeted at kids, which is ridiculous.”
The Prime Minister also said:
“The marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children is completely unacceptable and I will do everything in my power to end this practice for good.”
Apparently, everything in his power does not include banning the practice of advertising vapes in this way.
Instead, the Government have announced yet another call for evidence, further kicking into the long grass the action that academics, teachers, parents and Members on both sides of the House all agree is essential now. The Government can try all they like to feign outrage at the current situation, but it is partly because of their inaction that we find ourselves in this mess. The Department of Health and Social Care could easily have included these measures in its tobacco control plan, had it not decided to scrap that plan.
The measures are eminently sensible, and we do not need another call for evidence to tell us what we can all see in our own communities. When the Minister responds, I am sure he will point to the illicit vape enforcement squad that the Government announced back in April to enforce rules on vaping and to tackle illegal sales. The squad is obviously welcome, but a few things remain unclear. First, when will the squad start its fieldwork? In a recent answer to a written parliamentary question, the Minister admitted that it will not be until “later this year”. When specifically? We are now in July. What are parents and guardians who are concerned about their children’s vaping expected to do in the meantime?
What the Minister announced in April simply does not add up to a comprehensive tobacco control plan or a strategy for a smoke-free 2030, nor will it stop the companies that are specifically targeting vapes and e-liquids at our children. The Minister knows it and we know it, so let us drop the pretence.
The next Labour Government will end the 13 years of Tory public health neglect that have seen health inequalities widen and healthy life expectancy stall and go into reverse in some communities. In our health mission, we pledged to make this country a Marmot nation, to tackle the social inequalities that influence health and to ensure that children have the very best start possible, to give them the building blocks for a healthy life.
There has been no joined-up plan for public health for 13 years, and the British people have paid the price. That is why Labour will put a mission delivery board right at the heart of Government—one that works across the whole of Whitehall to deliver secure jobs, fair pay, adequate housing, safe streets and clean air. The next Labour Government will build on our legacy of smoking cessation and take the bold steps needed to reach a smoke-free future, a future that has drifted further and further away under this rudderless Government. We will tackle underage vaping and work alongside councils and the NHS to ensure that vapes are used exclusively as a stop-smoking aid.
In short, prevention is better than cure. We will reform our healthcare system so that it focuses relentlessly on preventing the causes of ill health in the first place. For voters, the next general election will be a crystal-clear choice: choose a Conservative Government who have undone decades of progress when it comes to public health, or choose a Labour Government who will work day in, day out to give everyone in Britain the opportunity to lead a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.
I commend our motion to the House.
Protecting children from the risks of vaping is a key Government priority. We regulate vaping, with a minimum age of sale of 18; advertising restrictions, such as a ban on TV and radio; and a cap on nicotine levels and tank sizes. However, in the past two years there has been an increase in children vaping, which is why we have already taken action and will take further actions.
Despite its effectiveness as a tool for adults to quit smoking, we are concerned about the risks that vapes pose to children and non-smokers. Vapes are not risk-free. Nicotine is highly addictive and can be harmful, and there are unanswered questions on the longer-term use of vaping. As Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer says:
“If you smoke, vaping is much safer;
if you don’t smoke, don’t vape”.
So earlier this year, in April, I announced new measures to step up our efforts to stop children getting hooked on vaping. First, I announced a new specialised illicit vapes enforcement squad. It is a dedicated new team to tackle underage vape sales and the illicit products that young people have access to, hold companies to account and enforce the rules. We are providing £3 million of new funding to trading standards, which will help to share knowledge and intelligence across the country; undertake test purchasing; disrupt illicit supply, including by organised crime gangs; remove illegal products from our shelves and at our borders; and undertake more testing to ensure compliance with our rules, bolstering the training capacity of trading standards. We have already made firms withdraw products where they do not comply with the rules. With the new squad, more companies that fail to comply with the law will be held accountable. I am pleased to announce that the National Trading Standards has begun its operation—that directly answers the question asked by Andrew Gwynne—and is gathering intelligence, training staff and bolstering capacity to begin its fieldwork.
In April, I also launched a call for evidence on youth vaping, to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vape products, and to explore where Government can go further. Our call for evidence explored a range of issues about how we ensure regulatory compliance. It was partly about the appearance and characteristics of vapes, including colours and flavours, and partly about their marketing and promotion, particularly the role of social media. Our call for evidence closed on
I know that the Minister is committed to closing that loophole that allows vaping companies to give children free samples, but, as we have all discussed, this is about the direct gateway effect between people vaping and then smoking. Parents in Walthamstow they are convinced that more children will end up smoking as a result of being able to access vaping in any form at all. So why are the Government consulting on limiting access to vaping for under-18s, rather than just stopping it altogether?
We are trying to stop access to vapes for the under-18s—it is literally illegal. We are trying not only to enforce the law but to reduce demand, as we have been discussing in this debate. We are not in disagreement about what the objective is: we do not want any kids to smoke or to vape—it is as simple as that.
The Minister said that this is “literally illegal”. According to the director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, 40% to 50% of the disposable vapes market is made up of illicit products. So does the Minister agree that as well improving the regulation of vapes within the legal market that we have heard about so far, we must also see improvements to border security, to clamp down on illicit vape sales?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady on that point; this is exactly what our enforcement squad is doing, and I completely agree about the importance of doing it.
On the call for evidence, we will be producing our response in early autumn, identifying and outlining areas where the Government will go further. The key point is that we need evidence to take effective action to stop children vaping. While that call for evidence has been running, we have already taken further steps. At the end of May, the Prime Minister announced several new measures to support our efforts to tackle youth and kids’ vaping. That included closing the loophole in our laws that has been allowing companies to give out free samples of vapes to under-18s, which ASH estimates could total as many as 20,000 a year. He also announced that we will overhaul the rules on selling nicotine-free vapes to under-18s and on issuing fines to shops selling vapes to the under-18s.
The Prime Minister also announced that we will update the school curriculum, to emphasise the health risks of vaping within relationships, sex and health education lessons, just as schools currently do for smoking and drinking, so that kids understand the risks of vaping. We will be writing to police forces to ensure dedicated school liaison officers across the country are using the new resources available to keep illegal vapes out of schools.
I want to use this opportunity to outline the work we are doing to successfully reduce smoking, not least because the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson touched on it. In the 1970s, more than 40% of people smoked, and it was still 21% in 2010. Since then, we have taken a series of steps, including doubling excise duties and introducing a minimum excise tax on the cheapest cigarettes, that have helped to drive down smoking to a record low of just 13% in England.
We have gone from 21% to 13%, but of course we want to go further. In 2019, we announced our ambition for England to go smoke-free by 2030, which is considered to be 5% or less. Over the past decade, we have made significant progress towards making England smoke free. We have continued to invest in local stop-smoking services, to help smokers get the right support for them. We continue to work in support of the NHS. Last year alone, we provided £35 million to the NHS long-term plan commitments on smoking.
Youth smoking rates are now at their lowest rates on record. In 2021, just 3.3% of 15-year-olds were regular smokers, although of course we want to reduce that figure even further. Through the new measures I announced in April, the Government will be supporting many more smokers to quit through the tobacco reduction strategy. Some 1 million smokers will be encouraged to Swap to Stop, swapping cigarettes for vapes under a new national scheme that targets those who are most at risk and gives them free vapes. That is first scheme of its kind in the world. It is based on experience from the successful local pilots, and is an evidence-based initiative.
Likewise, we will offer innovative, but evidence-based, financial incentives for all women to stop smoking in pregnancy. Again, this is based on evidence that has been gathered during local pilot schemes and the strategy will be implemented at a national level. Shortly, we will launch a consultation on cigarette pack inserts to provide further information to support smokers to quit, which is something Canada has done successfully.
Further, those who supply tobacco for sale in the UK must be registered for tobacco track and trace, and obtain an economic operator ID. We brought in that scheme to tackle illegal tobacco, but we now want to use the existing system in a new way, to help strengthen enforcement and to target the illicit market. From now on, when people are found selling illicit tobacco, we will not just seize their products but remove their economic operator ID, so they will no longer be able to buy or sell tobacco. We are exploring how to share information with local partners about who is registered on the track and trace system, so that they know who is and who is not legally entitled to sell tobacco in their areas, helping to drive enforcement.
We are committed to doing all we can to prevent children from starting to vape and we are already taking robust action in a range of areas. We are actively working on ways that we can go further, but it is essential that those methods are evidence based and that we have measures that will be effective.
The Minister will have heard the figures given earlier: my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne said that 30% of secondary school pupils in Yorkshire and Humberside have tried vaping and I said that the figure for the north-west was 29%. I quoted the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health saying that youth vaping is “fast becoming epidemic”. He is talking about an evidence-based plan, but what is the situation around evidence? My local area still has very high levels of smoking, but we are now seeing the same pattern tracking in vaping among young people as we did in smoking. Does he agree that there needs to be different and further action in those places where the figures are so bad?
The theme of my speech is that we have already taken action and we will continue to take action, but that it has to be evidence based. A range of suggestions has been made during the debate, and I am sure there will be more, about different things to do with flavours, packaging, colours and marketing. There needs to be evidence and definition about those things. Some people will probably say that we should ban all flavours; some will say, “Let’s ban all coloured vapes”; some will say that we should have plain packaging or vapes should be hidden from view. We will need to take an evidence-based view on all those issues, rather than just assuming that one knows the answer immediately.
It is not totally obvious to me what the position is of the Opposition Front Bench team on any of those issues—whether they would ban all colours, ban all flavours, demand plain packaging, or want the same kind of restrictions as there are for cigarettes in terms of where they are placed in shops. I am happy to take an intervention if the shadow team have answers to those questions. Is it a yes or a no to those things?
What we are here to talk about today is advertising and packaging. I made it very clear in my contribution that the next Labour Government would act robustly on both those issues.
Act robustly? I think we all want to act robustly. The shadow Minister said in his speech that he did not like banana-flavoured vapes, but would they be banned? I am happy to take an intervention if the shadow team have an answer. I do not think that we have an answer. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need to have evidence. We need to have an evidence-based approach, and we need to have not just the evidence about what drives these things, but clear definitions of these things on which we can actually take action. We have to be clear about what we are and are not doing within all these fields.
All I was trying to do is to demonstrate that, while we are committed to taking action—I feel very strongly about taking action on this—and while we have done a whole range of different things on this point, we need evidence to make good policy, which is why we are having a call for evidence.
The Minister will know that the Government commissioned the Khan review, which reported on
On driving up support for people to Swap to Stop, we are following the recommendations. On the things that we have been discussing in this debate, a whole set of other questions have been raised, on which our call for evidence explicitly invited evidence, because we want to have an evidence-based policy.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because I want to turn to the evidence. We know that, when we had plain packaging and removed advertising around cigarette sales, we saw a significant decrease in the use of those products, particularly among young people. We also have other evidence: Israel introduced plain packaging in 2020 and Finland in 2022. There is plenty of evidence out there on the implications of plain packaging, so why will the Minister not use that evidence and implement things?
We are garnering evidence on every different aspect of this policy question. In my remarks today, I have tried to illustrate some of the questions that we are thinking about at the moment, which I am sure we will hear more of during the debate. I was simply trying to make the point that we need definitions of things and we need evidence before we take action.
In conclusion, we are committed to doing all we can to stop children from vaping—that is a personal priority of mine. We are also committed to stopping youth smoking. In order to meet our smoke-free 2030 ambition, we are committed to doing all we can to stop people from starting to smoke in the first place, and to give people the support that they need to quit and save their lives.
It is very welcome that we are here today. There is surely nobody in this place who thinks that we should not be working to protect children and young people from the health harms of vaping. The SNP absolutely supports the motion that we are discussing today. I am also very glad that the SNP Scottish Government are taking this issue seriously, too. They are looking at tighter restrictions on vaping advertising and promotion, they have a tobacco action plan being published later this year, and an urgent review is under way of the environmental impacts. Certainly, the management of single-use vapes is something that significantly concerns me. The potential policy responses could include a ban—on a personal note, I sincerely hope that that is what happens.
I have been in a number of these debates and, usually, comments are made about smoking cessation. Just to be clear: I am very supportive of all measures that allow people to be supported to stop smoking. Reusable vapes are a potential option. My concerns are very significantly around disposable vapes, but we should look at this issue as broadly as possible. Countries around the world are already doing that. In Argentina, Japan and Thailand, there is a complete ban on e-cigarettes. In the Netherlands, production stopped on
One of the reasons why I became interested in this issue was that a constituent of mine, Laura Young, drew it to my attention. She said that whenever she was out walking with her dog she saw these disposables discarded everywhere. Of course, once she said that to me, I could no longer walk anywhere without finding disposable vapes myself. They are everywhere. It is an incredible amount of litter. They are on streets, on beaches, and in our schools, as we have heard. I found one in the loo in Portcullis House yesterday. They are described as disposables, but these things, which are being thrown away so casually, are not disposable; they contain plastic waste, and rare and potentially harmful elements including lithium.
I am greatly relieved that my hon. Friend has touched on the environmental consequences. I realise that the motion is about children and vaping, and I think there is scarce evidence that there is anything other than harm available to children from vaping, in terms of their respiratory and oral health. Quite apart from that, the clue is in the title: disposable vapes. Only 30% of the million or so that are consumed in the United Kingdom every week are recycled, and those that are dumped are littering our communities and environment with their heating elements, lithium batteries and plastic packaging. Those that end up in landfill contribute significantly to the 250 fires a year at landfill sites. There is literally nothing to recommend these abhorrent products, so why does she think that the Tory Government are dithering in this way?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and am delighted that he is as enraged as I am about the harm that these products are causing. I know that in his community people are equally as concerned as in mine. His comment bears reflecting upon, because how realistic is it that children will find ways to recycle this disposable product, or so-called disposable product, which is undoubtedly targeted at children, given that they are probably hiding it from their parents in the first place? There are no positive grounds for keeping these things about. I secured a debate last year focusing on the environmental impact, which bears reflecting on. My hon. Friend is right, so I am glad that he made the points that he did.
I am also deeply concerned about the impact on children and young people, because these vapes are so available, so inviting, and so increasingly used by younger people. I am particularly concerned about under-18s. Andrew Gwynne, who opened the debate very powerfully, talked about the Health and Social Care Committee having heard from a headteacher about the significant proportion of children vaping regularly. If we speak to headteachers in any of our constituencies, they will say the same thing. I was also alarmed, though unfortunately not surprised, to hear him highlight issues of primary-aged children vaping. That is terrifying. It is why today’s motion needs to be taken seriously.
The Advertising Standards Authority says that
“adverts for e-cigarettes must be targeted responsibly”.
I am not sure that that is what is happening. Such ads must, apparently,
“not be directed at under-18s”.
Again, the ASA has a job of work to do there. I wonder, although I suspect that it is perhaps unable to, whether it would want to look at issues such as sports advertising. Blackburn Rovers—other teams may do this, but this is the only team that I am aware of that are doing it—are being sponsored by a vaping retailer, Totally Wicked, for the sixth season in a row. We would find it unacceptable if our football club came out with cigarette branding on their shirts. I cannot understand why it is any more acceptable for a football club to come out with vaping advertising. I am keen for the Minister, or Government Members, to address that.
Would the hon. Lady be similarly outraged to know that the same company supports St Helens rugby football club, and called the stadium Totally Wicked?
I would be equally outraged. I know how much work the hon. Lady does in this regard. I am unsurprised to find that we are both enraged by the same thing. This is really unacceptable. If we are serious about dealing with the harms to children and young people, we really should expect sports clubs to be somewhere that they can see positive imagery and have positive influences. I recently visited a vaping shop near to where I live. I know they are sold in other outlets too, in corner shops and supermarkets, on Amazon and eBay, and we have heard about them being sold in a barbershop as well. They are not difficult to find, and they are so inviting. When I went into the shop, it looked lovely: the display was beautiful, with nice colours and names and all kinds of fancy shapes that looked like highlighters or lipsticks. I have seen some online that look like brightly coloured fidget spinners. These things are quite enticing, are they not? They are very attractive, and that is obviously deliberate.
I was interested to hear about the King’s College study on plain packaging, because anything that makes vapes less attractive to young people is obviously worth considering. I say that for many reasons, one being that I heard recently about young people purchasing disposable vapes to match their outfits. I must say that that had never occurred to me before, but why not? If they are purchasing them, they might want them to match their outfits, just as they might think about what flavour they would like, such as bubblegum or grape soda. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish talked about them looking like an old-fashioned sweet shop, and he was right about that.
Disposable vapes are designed to be enticing, to draw young people in. They are throwaway and they are affordable. Caroline Nokes was absolutely right to describe them as pocket-money purchases. Parents will not always know what their children are purchasing with pocket money; presumably children throw disposable vapes away, as I have said, before the parents find them. As parents, we have no idea whether our children are using them. I hope mine are not, but none of us can know that, because they are so easy to find and so easy to throw away that we must be alive to the fact that we might not have the full picture.
Presumably we cannot all have the full picture, because, if we look at the statistics, in a recent YouGov/ASH survey the proportion of children aged between 11 and 17 who vape has gone up from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022, and the proportion of children who have tried vaping overall is now sitting at 16%. We have heard significantly higher figures than that cited in this debate.
I think it is reasonable to look for disposable vapes to be removed from sale. That is certainly what I would like to see. I am pleased to hear calls for retailers to ban single-use vapes in Scotland, where environmental and health charities have joined forces to call for an end to the sale of disposable vapes. Groups such as Keep Scotland Beautiful, ASH Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society are urging retailers to follow the good example of Waitrose, who I take my hat off to here, in banning the sale of those single-use products.
Waitrose did that because of reports suggesting that their popularity was soaring among people who had not previously smoked, as we have heard already, including the younger generation. It is really important that we examine the subject. I am pleased about the Scottish Government’s action in that regard and I echo Barry Fisher, the chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, who also talks about a “litter emergency” and emphasises that the time to act is now.
The time to act is now also on the illicit vapes we have heard about already—the dodgy vapes and the chemicals within them. Lab research shows that they have up to twice the daily safe amount of lead and nine times the daily safe amount of nickel. There is also chromium in there. We do not want our children to be ingesting those substances, and those studies are based only on some vapes confiscated from a school in England, so we do not know what else is out there; we just know it should not be. Dodgy vapes have deeply concerning health impacts. In Scotland, there have been reports of illegal vapes confiscated from a school that left children coughing up blood. Which of us wants that for our children? We need to act.
It is deeply concerning—and that is before we even get into the notion of young people who have never previously smoked using disposable vapes and then graduating on to smoking cigarettes. We know that is an issue. The producers of vapes would have us believe they were intended to rectify and remedy that very problem, but it turns out to be the opposite that happens. The World Health Organisation has expressed significant concern about that, stating that children who use such products are three times more likely to use tobacco products in the future. If the Minister is looking for evidence, that is the kind of statistic he ought to bear in mind.
Huge profits are being made on the back of all those sales of vapes to children. Big business is being done here, but it is not always being done by the rules. The most popular brand for children is Elfbar, but in July an Observer investigation found that Elfbar had flouted the rules to promote its products to young people in the UK. Advertising videos and promotions on TikTok, for instance, were felt to be of concern. Some of those videos attracted hundreds of thousands of views, on a platform that is used by three quarters of 16 and 17-year-olds.
We have already heard about children’s doctors calling for a complete ban on disposable vapes. Dr Johnson, who is herself a children’s doctor, has spoken out about that. If we will not listen to the views of children’s doctors about the impact of vapes on children’s health, who will we listen to?
I am heartened that Humza Yousaf, our First Minister, says that a ban on disposable vapes is under consideration, and by the incredible hard work being done by the campaign group ASH, which absolutely deserves our thanks. I also thank the organisers of the TRNSMT festival, which took place in Glasgow last weekend, because they did not permit disposable vapes there, and I absolutely applaud them for that.
Less positively, however, I cannot thank the administration of East Renfrewshire Council, which is where I live. The motion, which I think is a good one, includes a passage about working with councils, and that is absolutely right. Of the 32 councils in Scotland, 28 supported motions calling for a ban on disposable vapes. Regrettably, East Renfrewshire Council was not one of them. It did not support the ban, seemingly because a ban was supported by the SNP. I am really unimpressed by that. It is a poor show from that Labour Administration and their Conservative enablers that they could not bring themselves in step with the whole of the rest of the country and, I suspect, with the Members who are present in the debate. That seems somewhat ironic given the motion that is before the House. I hope that they will reflect on that and change their mind, and that we will get a full set of councils to support the ban—although the numbers so far are pretty impressive.
I hope that the Scottish Government come to the conclusion that these things are too dangerous and damaging, although I am grateful for their sterling work so far. I hope that the UK Government will listen to what is being said to them. Like my hon. Friend Dave Doogan, I was not entirely convinced that a huge degree of listening was going on, but I hope that I am wrong about that and that we will hear about a very serious focus on the matter. The industry will not take the steps that are needed; politicians need to do that. Disposable vapes are a danger to the environment and to our young people. It is high time that we took them off the shelf.
I call the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.
As the Chair of said Committee, I am very conscious of the importance of these issues, and I am pleased to see them debated in the House. I welcome the debate, but anywhere I have seen this issue debated, including in my cross-party Select Committee—many of its members are here—I do not see an awful lot of politics in it. I have a lot of time for the shadow Minister, Andrew Gwynne, but I thought that he was uncharacteristically partisan in his remarks—a Labour Government this and a Tory Government that. I thought that that was misplaced, but maybe that’s just me.
Our Committee heard from the chief medical officer back in February at the start of our major inquiry on prevention. Professor Whitty highlighted then what he called “an appalling situation” whereby vaping, which he described as
“an addictive product with…unknown consequences for developing minds”, is being marketed to children. I absolutely agree with him that that is totally unacceptable and out of control. As a parent of secondary school-age children, I see, hear and read letters home about the subject in a way that I never imagined I would only a couple of years ago, let alone when I started in this House 13 years ago.
Professor Whitty noted that
“rates of vaping have doubled in the last couple of years among children”, which is consistent with what we are all hearing as constituency MPs. That situation cannot be allowed to continue, which is why I agree with the part of the Opposition’s motion that calls for plain packaging for vaping. The record will show that I most certainly did not vote against new clause 4 to the Health and Care Act, tabled by Mary Kelly Foy, in November 2021. I support that part of the motion—it is consistent and in line with what happens for cigarettes. I do not think anybody would argue that we should go back to the days of the Marlboro Man and branding on cigarette packets, so I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take that point away.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as he is getting into the meat of his speech. Does he share my concerns about the impact that advertising on sports kits could have on any attempts to bring down the number of children vaping?
Yes, I do. I suspect that point may be raised later in the debate by one of my fellow Committee members, if she catches your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Blackburn Rovers issue has been raised, and it is not a historical sports deal, either: some may think that it was something that happened last season, but they have renewed it for the new season, which in my opinion is the opposite of “totally wicked”. I have young children who use that expression, and I can see why that would be attractive to a company wishing for Blackburn Rovers to carry its advertising on their shirts—I can only think that is the company’s motivation. I would ask Blackburn Rovers to look themselves in the mirror about that deal as much as the company that is doing the advertising, because it takes two to tango. Yes, I am concerned about that.
A couple of weeks ago, the Health Committee held one of our topical oral evidence sessions on youth vaping. We did so because we are very concerned about increasing media reports of children taking up vaping, as well as what we are hearing in the House and from our own constituents. During that evidence session, we heard from representatives from the health policy world and the medical and education sectors about the impact of the rising trend in child vaping. As was mentioned by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, we heard directly from a headteacher from the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr Johnson—a fellow Committee member—about the disruption that vaping is causing in her school. She did indeed talk about the impact on education of students vaping in the toilets and setting off the fire alarms.
We heard about the cost associated with putting heat sensors on top of fire alarm sensors—teachers have got enough to be doing! We heard about the disruption, which has an impact on education. During exam season recently, there were examples of exams being impacted by alarms being set off. As the headteacher told us,
“I became really concerned about interruptions to the exam season, so I had to change the smoke sensors to heat sensors really quickly to prevent us being in and out while students were sitting GCSEs and A-levels.”
That beggars belief. Young people have suffered enough in the past few years, their education has been disrupted enough, and now this—an epidemic of vaping that we are allowing to happen.
I raised the same point with the children’s doctor who gave evidence to the Select Committee. The issue of toileting in schools has wider impacts than just the disruption of education: children do not want to use the toilets, because they do not want to walk into an environment where people are vaping. They are worried about that, so toilets have become off-limits places. There is a much wider issue around toileting in schools and schools closing toilets. There is a very good charity called ERIC that works in the area of children’s bowel and bladder health, and without getting into too much detail, there is an impact on the retentiveness of children who do not use the toilet when they are at school. That can have serious medical implications, so once again, it beggars belief that we find ourselves in this situation because of vaping.
In my opinion, the industry has not gone anywhere near far enough in ensuring that its products do not appeal to the young demographic, and it is disingenuous for it to claim otherwise. Shops are able to display wide ranges of vapes in colourful, flavoured varieties and in locations that do not usually sell similar products: for example, we heard about vapes being sold in chicken shops and pound shops. That is in sharp contrast to tobacco products, which must be locked away and packaged in standardised plain packaging containing health warnings.
Evidence given to us by ASH from its surveys shows that flavour is a reason but not the main reason why young people who have never smoked start vaping. The most common reason for trying vaping among young never smokers is “just to give it a try”, at 54%, followed by “other people use them so I join in”, at 18%, and then there is “I like the flavours”, at just 12%. It is worth putting that statistic on the record, because there was a bit of a debate earlier between those on the Front Benches about flavours.
I have a few other points. Vapes are an age-controlled product; it is not legal for people under the age of 18 to buy them. There are a number of ways that young people obtain vapes anyway—for example, through the lack of age verification in shops or by buying them from other sellers who are often older teenagers who buy in bulk to sell them on, sometimes in school settings. I know schools take a very tough line on that, and rightly so, but teachers have better things to do than play trading standards officers on campus. We are particularly concerned in the Select Committee about online ordering, which is an area I think would benefit from more Government attention in order to avoid the law being circumvented. Overall, there is a need for much better enforcement of the law on not selling the products to under-18s. It is crucial that trading standards officers tackle non-compliant vendors, and of course are resourced to do so. I know the Minister is seized of that, and he rightly put that in his recent tobacco plan. I say tobacco plan, but I mean the tobacco strategy; as someone who has written a tobacco control plan, I was careful about using that word.
Price is another important issue, particularly the price of disposable vapes, as others have mentioned. They are much cheaper than tobacco products—much cheaper—in part because they are not subject to the same levels of excise duty. I understand that that is clearly not a matter for the Minister on the Front Bench, but maybe he could take that up with his Treasury colleagues. ASH told us that there is evidence that children are highly price-sensitive when it comes to buying these products, and that adding an excise charge of £5 on the battery, which is what we have often heard about, would act as a significant deterrent.
There are a lot of young people in the Gallery, and I wonder what they are thinking listening to this debate. I would urge right hon. and hon. Members to talk to young people, as I am sure we all do, either in their own homes or in the schools in our constituencies, and to ask them their motivation for vaping and what story they know about vaping, because their stories are interesting. I dropped into a vape shop in my constituency just the other day. I made a full disclosure: I told them who I was and that I chair the Health and Social Care Committee. High street vape shops are often very responsible in what they do, and this shop was very clear about how it approaches young people who come in. It told me about a product that basically looked like a bag of Skittles—other nice sweets are available. Skittles took the producer to court and the producer then had to withdraw that product. It does not take a genius to understand why someone might want to brand a vape to look like a bag of Skittles. Popping into vape shops and talking to them about how they do their business is time well spent on a constituency Friday.
To conclude, I have so many serious concerns about disposable vapes and the way they are marketed to children. However, I have to say that I do not support a total ban because, as ASH told the Select Committee in evidence, they can play an important part in helping people to quit smoking. We have to be very careful about a broad-brush ban, but the Government need to step forward even more than they already have, and this debate may help the Minister to form his views. I know he is personally very seized of this issue; he has spoken to me about it on a number of occasions.
The Government need to stay on this issue as an urgent case. A number of friends who also have children at secondary school have asked me, “What are the Government doing about this?” because they know what I do. The concern out there in parent land is growing by the day, and we parents are concerned—very concerned—about this. We on the Select Committee are also very concerned about it, and we will be writing to the Minister and the Secretary of State off the back of our session a couple of weeks ago to set out some of our concerns and some of the recommendations we may make. I hope the Government will take that on board, and come back to us promptly as part of the ongoing consultation the Minister has told us about.
I agree with some of the interventions that have been made. The Khan review was commissioned by the Government and it is a robust piece of work containing with lots of evidence. There is an awful lot to be seized of. I appreciate that it is challenging to get grid slots and get stuff through No.10, but the Prime Minister has personally identified himself with this issue and is concerned about it. I therefore say to the Minister that in that regard he would be pushing at an open door if he banged on a black door with a No.10 on it.
I am thankful that those on the Labour Front Bench chose this important topic for debate. We have a policy for and a commitment to a smoke-free future, but it is at risk. In a mere few years, we have paved the way for our children and grandchildren to live healthier, fitter and longer lives. The hard work of doctors, nurses, charities, researchers and activists mean that we are on the edge of creating a future free from the shackles of smoking. That hard work is in serious jeopardy. Smoking still claims the undesirable title of the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, and at current levels, more than half of Britain’s 6.6 million smokers will die prematurely. Those are horrifying figures, and when a number of people equivalent to the entire population of Wales will die from smoking, it is clear that we are not moving fast, hard or strongly enough on our smoke-free by 2030 commitment.
As many ex-smokers will know, there is no silver bullet in the fight against smoking. Our strategy must accommodate an integrated approach that understands that targeted social support works with Government regulation—an approach that combines powerful new tools to help current smokers quit, while preventing children from ever forming this terrible habit. Vaping has its place. It is a tool, but it is only one of them, in the fight to end smoking.
Too much focus on vaping as the answer to cutting smoking risks raising its profile too high, and ultimately attracting more young people. Helping current smokers to quit can be only one aspect of our approach. Without further action to encourage people never to start smoking in the first place, Britain will miss its smoke-free 2030 target by seven years, with the poorest areas missing that target by at least 14 years. When tobacco kills someone in the UK every five minutes, we do not have 14 years to act, never mind 21. I therefore welcome updates on the important work of cracking down on the illicit tobacco trade, and congratulate enforcement agencies on seizing £7 million-worth of illegal tobacco products.
We know there is a strong link between illegal sales and under-age smoking, so tackling the problem at its source is by far the best approach. I am disappointed by the lack of Government plans to tackle the alarming growth in vaping among children. The introduction of vaping products has undoubtedly dramatically improved people’s chance of quitting smoking, but the appeal of these products to children is a serious concern. Communities such as mine in Ealing, Southall want and need strengthened trading standards. They want to see regulators able to impose the fines that His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can use. That was a missed opportunity earlier this year; trading standards can only pass evidence to HMRC. By not bringing through that important reform, the Government are providing safe harbour for criminal gangs and organised crime to generate cash.
This illegal and unregulated trade is of serious concern to me, but when the situation demands immediate action, the Government announce a slow consultation. We already have comparable evidence from tobacco products about packaging, flavouring and price points. We know that the branding, flavours and price are targeted at children. When the uptake of vaping among non-smokers is so high, it is baffling that the Government have not acted to make vaping products follow the same trading standards and rules as tobacco. If we are serious about tackling the uptake of vaping by non-smokers, we have to act to regulate and police vaping as we do other tobacco products.
I will briefly go a little off-topic, although the issue is relevant. In communities such as mine, it is not just vaping that is targeted at children. Paan is a serious issue. It is a chewing tobacco product, often sold in corner shops, with nuts, seeds and sweets mixed in for flavour, and it can be picked up for pennies a portion. Because of that and betel, there are terrible statistics on the rates of oral cancers in Asian communities, and anything that reduces those rates will save lives. Yes, we need vaping to help people quit, but only as part of a risk-reduction strategy; making vapes for children, marketing them at children and selling them to children—no.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and to be able to speak in this debate. May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr Johnson, who has done so much work on this issue? She is a paediatrician and, frankly, we should always turn to her when looking for advice on vaping. I also pay tribute to a previous Member of this House, Jim Fitzpatrick, who was the Member for Poplar and Limehouse. He has now retired to my constituency—a blessing, although perhaps not an additional vote at the next election. His wife is a cardiologist, and she was talking to me about vaping and the fact that we simply do not know what the health implications might be 20 or 30 years hence. However, it would be an act of gross hypocrisy for me not to confess to liking the odd puff on a vape, and I regard it as an important tool for the cessation of smoking.
We need to be careful when we start discussing things such as flavours. The average vape stick has the most horrific, synthetic, disgusting flavour. They do not taste like strawberry ice, blue raspberry or anything else. They taste weird, but they do not taste as weird as the tobacco-flavoured ones. When I first came to this House—a long time ago now—it was when the tobacco companies were first marketing vaping. The products were almost invariably tobacco-flavoured and tasted disgusting, if we are being brutally honest. I do not know how best to describe them, but they were clunky in design. They were big and chunky and did not fit easily in the pocket. That is where the big difference has come—with cheap, slimline vape sticks, which are much more pocketable and much cheaper.
I really think that price is a two-edged sword. For those looking to stop smoking, there is the sheer fact that vaping disposable bars in particular, which are so cheap and easily obtainable, is really cost-effective. We therefore need to be a little careful and nuanced in looking at how we go about pricing them effectively. It is important that they still be a cost-effective route into smoking cessation, but equally—I made this point to the Minister—we must do something about what I referred to as promotional selling. It is simply not allowed to do two-for-one deals on packets of cigarettes or any other tobacco products—I hasten to add that two-for-one deals are not allowed on things such as baby formula, either—but they are allowed on vape sticks. I know from experience that the village shop sells three Elfbars for £12, making them £4 each, so three kids can easily club together and get a product that is incredibly cheap.
I think Kirsten Oswald referred to the Elfbar as the most popular and one of the most widely accessible vape sticks. I take real offence to the Elfbar name, because I think it sounds somewhat like “health bar”, if not pronounced in quite the same way that I would.
It strikes me that the motion does not address myriad issues. It does not address the naming or pricing of these products. There needs to be some good and effective research on flavours. I am happy to say that these things should be in plain packaging, and they should not be brightly coloured. I do not see what is wrong with a slimline black vape stick—or olive green, which we know has been so effective in the plain packaging of cigarettes.
Tomorrow, I will meet the two headteachers of Romsey School and Mountbatten School. A problem in my constituency is the ease with which children can obtain vape sticks, including—we have heard reference to this—doctored vape sticks. We do not know what is in them. I think my neighbour, my hon. Friend Steve Brine, commented on the letters home from school. At the start of the Whitsun half-term week, the two headteachers wrote a letter to parents explaining that children from both schools had been hospitalised because of vape sticks and, to be frank, nobody knew what was in them. One child was suffering from seizures, and they were having an impact on heart rates. Those are really serious health implications that are affecting children.
My hon. Friend mentioned toileting, and I will go there, too—nobody will want to listen to this conversation, but it is important. Way back in 1983, the most terrifying place I ever had to go was the girls’ loos in the main block of Romsey School, where the air was thick with cigarette smoke and hairspray—a unique combination that many male Members of the House will have had no experience of. It is disgusting. We now have a situation where Romsey School has had to introduce alarms because—guess what?—through vaping, it is back, but we cannot smell it.
My mother had the nose of a bloodhound, and if I had had a single cigarette some hours previously, she would sniff it the second I was in the house. If my daughter walks in today, having consumed God knows how many vape sticks, I have no idea that she has done so. The same, of course, is true for teachers, who simply will not know from sniffing children—there are probably all sorts of safeguarding rules why they do not go around sniffing children—whether they have been vaping in the girls’ loos. I suspect that the boys’ loos are also a hotbed of it.
This has massive health implications for children. I remember how, at 11 years old, I would not go to the loo all day because the main block loos were so scary. We do not want to go back to that. We need our children to be able to go to the loo safely and with confidence, and part of that is about making sure that the loos are a safe environment and free of vapes. I pay tribute to my constituent Pete Sandhu, who has developed and indeed marketed a vape alarm, but they are still in the region of £300 to £400 per alarm. I gather that they compare well with an American brand, which is about £1,200 per alarm, but our schools simply cannot afford to be installing such equipment to ensure that pupils are safe while going to the loo.
In addition, I want to mention the levels of nicotine in vape sticks and the nicotine hit. I can talk from experience. The stark reality is that someone will get a far more intense nicotine hit from a disposable vape stick than from a cigarette. That is getting children addicted very quickly.
I speak in defence and support of the Minister; he is right to do a great deal more work on this issue, which we need to be evidence-based. As the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee said, children are very price-sensitive, but I was disappointed to see the issue of price not included in this motion. Clearly, the DHSC needs to have that conversation with the Treasury. We need the pricing to be right so that vaping remains affordable for those of us wanting to quit smoking, but is too expensive for those price-sensitive children to afford.
The places where vapes can be bought, such as hairdressers, beauticians and tanning salons, are inappropriate. We need a robust licensing regime that does not put those products on the ends of supermarket shelves, as I see in my local Morrisons. God bless Waitrose—Leckford, the home of the Waitrose estate, is in my constituency. It is a market leader in taking the right and principled stand. In the nearest Morrisons to my constituency—it is not actually in it—vape sticks are on the promotional end of supermarket shelves. Vape companies will have paid more to be in that prime location.
As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, hon. Members will expect me to make some comment at the end of my contribution—I will not drone on for too much longer—about gender. There has long been a real problem with girls still taking up smoking more than their male counterparts. Some of the packaging and design of Elfbars is gendered—there is an awful lot of pink out there. It is important that any sort of consultation bears in mind that there may be a more targeted marketing strategy towards young women than young men. Please could the Minister bear that in mind?
This is such an important debate and I commend the Opposition for having selected it. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, but I hope the shadow Minister will take my comments in the spirit in which they are intended. I want the idea to be done better, not just trashed. It is an important step, but there is an awful lot more work to do than just ban advertising. That is too simplistic.
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Nokes, who made such a common-sense and honest contribution. I think everyone appreciated it.
Colleagues may know that I am a strong advocate for vaping as a way for adults to quit smoking. I am also a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for vaping, so I have a lot of experience of speaking directly with the industry. Much of what I say today comes from what the industry itself is feeling and how it sees the problem of children vaping.
I have seen so many friends, and my late husband, make the switch from being heavy smokers to using—I stress this point—safe vaping products. Every minute, someone is admitted to hospital due to smoking. Someone dies from a smoking-related death every eight minutes. Pertinent to this debate remains the fact that, while not risk-free, vaping is 95% safer than smoking. More than 6.6 million adult smokers in this country have not been able to quit smoking or make the change to vaping. However, I would never advocate that someone who did not smoke or had never tried to smoke take up vaping. That is not the way forward. Vaping must be a way to quit smoking.
Like my colleagues, I support the motion. It is unequivocal that under-18s should not use or have any access to vape products. However, despite the Government’s announcement to tackle youth vaping, it remains a major concern. Far more needs to be done to address it, and as we have heard, the trend is at epidemic levels. There is nothing more heartbreaking than walking up the street or being on public transport and seeing very young people at a bus stop or gathered on the street with a vape in their hand. It saddens me, it really does.
Measures are needed specifically to target rogue manufacturers and retailers. Ultimately, no vape should appeal to a minor. Trading standards really needs the resources and the power to enforce the law. A lot of what I am saying is also what the industry is telling me it supports, whether it is the vaping industry or even tobacco firms. I know many people really do not want to hear anything from tobacco firms, but in relation to vaping we should listen to some of the things the industry itself is suggesting.
One of the most effective measures to limit youth access to vapes is surely enforcing strict age verification across all retail channels, including online platforms. Retailers are required by law to operate age verification systems to prevent the sale of vape products to anyone under 18, but some retailers, we know, do not enforce those regulations effectively. Online retailers must also have a stringent age verification process in place to prevent under-18s accessing vape products. We know that retailers can get No ID No Sale! and Challenge 25 resources. They should make use of those resources if it helps them to challenge under-age sales.
The advertising and promotion of vape products is tightly regulated in the UK. However, some irresponsible online and social media marketing can and inevitably does still reach young people, with the results we are now seeing. The Government must strengthen online and social media regulation. No e-cigarettes and e-liquids, including product, packaging and marketing communications, should ever appeal to a child. We could do something about imagery, flavour names and anything else that relates to the world of children and young people, such as comic icons, cartoon characters or sweets. That must be clamped down on. At a minimum, all e-cigarette packaging could be inspected as part of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s notification process before a product can be placed on the market. Law enforcement mechanisms should also be reinforced, with fines and penalties reflecting the seriousness of the offence. This could be achieved by aligning fines with those relating to tobacco products. His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has recently been given the ability to issue on-the-spot fines of up to £10,000. That should be extended to trading standards.
The UK Vaping Industry Association supports all those measures. Recently, John Dunne, the director general of the UKVIA, appeared before the Health and Social Care Committee. He stressed that the Government should take “extreme action” to discourage anyone from selling to children. He reinforced the call for fines of £10,000 per instance, a licensing scheme for vape retailers, robust age verification, and greater powers to check packaging and product designs for potentially child-appealing designs.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. My apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker, for arriving midway through the debate. I was speaking at the all-party parliamentary group on suicide and self-harm prevention.
The hon. Lady is making an impassioned speech. On limiting access to young people, when adults go to the counter to buy tobacco products they are behind black and grey metal cabinets. They are not brightly coloured and so on. Would that not be a starting point? We could get vaping products hidden behind those black and metallic cupboards, so they are not, as my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes said, all glossy and appealing at the checkout? Would that not be a starting point?
I do think it would. I also think vaping products are currently an attraction for shopkeepers to get people into their shops, especially young people—a bit like when alcopops were put on the front shelf. It is brilliant idea and one I hope the Minister will hear. I wish I had thought of it.
Since entering the UK in 2021, disposable vapes have come to dominate the market, with 70% of disposable vape sales generated by new users. Children are attracted by their branding, bright colours and sweet flavours. The latest figures from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities show that in England youth vaping has doubled, from 4% to 8.6%. According to the latest figures highlighted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, more than 138 million disposable vapes are sold every year, and more than one in three products is potentially non-compliant, which means that more than 45 million non-compliant products are being sold each year. Figures have also revealed that in the last six months of 2022, 1.4 tonnes of illegal vapes were seized in, I am ashamed to say, the north-east of England alone. Trading standards officers across the country are doing their best to combat this tidal wave of non-compliant vapes. In March 2002, the tobacco company JTI UK commissioned tests on a variety of popular disposable vapes in the UK, and discovered that 25 out of 28 products were not legally compliant as they all exceeded the e-liquid volume and nicotine strength limits mandated by law.
Although the figures are stark, I do not advocate banning disposable vapes, but regulation must be tightened. For some people on low incomes, disposable vapes are an affordable way to kick the smoking habit. We do not want to send a message that vaping is bad, because we want some of those 6.6 million people to stop smoking by switching to vaping. Despite the Government announcing measures to tackle youth vaping, it is still a major problem and much more needs to be done to combat it. The Government must ensure that regulations are effective in targeting rogue vape producers and retailers, and not the elements of the vaping industry that are trying to sell responsibly to adults. We have to make sure that vaping remains accessible by adults who are trying to stop smoking.
The industry has produced a set of proposals on amending the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 to ensure that all nicotine and non-nicotine e-liquids are regulated in the same way, and that all e-cigarettes and e-liquids, including their product packaging and marketing communications, do not appeal to minors, by prohibiting the imagery we have heard about today. To complement that, all e-cigarette packaging should be inspected as part of the MHRA notification process before products can be put on the market. Law enforcement mechanisms should be reinforced with the fines and penalties that have been suggested, including the £10,000 fine, and the power to impose penalties should be extended to trading standards. That would be a practical way for them to help tackle this problem. We all know that trading standards need more resources than the Government have promised, given the sheer scale and scope of their work and the specific problem of youth vaping.
The Government have a clear opportunity to address youth vaping with its recent consultation. Clear steps must be taken to ensure that only safe and responsible vapes are available on the market, and that sufficient enforcement measures are in place to ensure that children are not targeted. It is the job of Government, the industry and enforcement agencies to work together to create a regulatory framework that acknowledges the important role vapes play in providing support for adult smokers to quit and prevents their appealing and being accessible to under-18s. The time for action is now. The Minister and the rest of the Government must heed today’s debate.
If I may, I would like to ask Members to visualise the following scenario. The world is emerging from a period of economic uncertainty and there is a war in Europe. Young people are being given products that contain nicotine and becoming addicted to nicotine. Unbeknown to them, the products are doing irreversible damage to their young bodies, creating ill health and, indeed, killing more of them than the war in which they are fighting. There is not only the addiction to nicotine but lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other conditions that have blighted so many lives and taken too many loved ones far too early.
The times that I just described were the times that my father experienced. That was my dad’s experience during the second world war. He was given cigarettes as part of his rations as a radar operator in the RAF serving in India and Burma. Through the magical world of time travel, colleagues are now in the 21st century, 80 years on in 2023, looking at the same type of young person, aged 18 and younger, and what do we find? The world is struggling with economic uncertainty and there is a war in Europe. Yet again, we find that many young people are being given free samples of products that contain nicotine—vaping products. Vapes are causing addiction to nicotine, and I dread to think of the other detrimental impacts on young people’s health. We have not learned the lessons of 80 years ago.
Vapes should not be used as a recreational product or, as I described them yesterday, as confectionery. Vapes should only ever be used as an aid to stop smoking. I remind the House that it is illegal to sell cigarettes to under-18s. As I just indicated, vapes are an aid to quit smoking for adults and should never be seen in the hands of children, yet that is not the case. Like others, time and again I see children—and yes, they are children—with a variety of multicoloured vapes in their hands as they leave school at the end of the day. They are leaving schools that do not have sixth forms, so they are definitely not 18. Legally, they should not be able to access vapes, yet they can and regularly do.
What is going wrong? Why have vapes become a fashionable accessory that contains what I believe to be one of the most addictive and dangerous substances known to man? I would now like Members to visualise their high streets. We may have lost many of our corner shops and the traditional tobacconists with packs and packs of cigarettes stacked up behind the counter and, as we have heard, where they do still exist they are heavily regulated, with cigarettes hidden behind screens and in plain packaging, yet they have been replaced with brightly lit shops stacked full of multicoloured vaping products. The product placement and design is second to none, with modern interiors and the minimalistic look that is so attractive to youngsters. It is like candy to the eyes of young people as they walk past on their way to school.
What does this situation say about us? How have we allowed this to happen again? The tobacco industry, starved of its traditional revenue, is now seeking new victims by ploughing billions of pounds into the vaping industry, and it is doing that without clear, long-term scientific evidence of what vaping is doing to the young people who have been influenced by the tobacco industry’s sleek marketing. This must stop, and it must stop now. We cannot allow vaping to become the new cigarettes. Far too many of us have seen the consequences of smoking and we must not allow history to repeat itself.
For that reason, I have five requests of my hon. Friend the Minister. First, we should update both the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 and the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion (Brandsharing) Regulations 2004 to cover vaping products. Secondly, we should amend the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 to prohibit the sale of flavoured vaping liquid. Thirdly, will my hon. Friend look carefully at the case for outlawing the sale of tobacco and vaping products within a defined radius of schools? Fourthly, we should ensure that the ban on the sale of vaping products to those under the age of 18 is properly and rigorously enforced by trading standards. Finally, I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to specifically target vaping products in his next Budget statement, to disincentivise the recreational habit through the tax system. Only then can we truly claim to be a world leader in protecting the health of our nation.
I declare my interest as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. I thank the Labour Front Bench for choosing this topic as their second debate on their Opposition day today.
I welcome the motion, which gives a clear indication that the shadow Front Bench and the next Labour Government take this issue seriously. Given Labour’s polling right now, I think this will be policy next year, if not before.
I have repeatedly made clear my concern about the need to tackle youth vaping. In 2021, as we have heard, I tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill to standardise the packaging of vapes. These amendments would have removed child-friendly branding and prohibited free distribution—in other words, free samples—to children. As Members may recall, the amendments had strong cross-party support. However, the Government did not adopt my amendments. In fact, they voted against them, and I am still in the dark as to why. Perhaps the Minister might explain in winding up.
Nevertheless, the Government must take forward these measures without further delay, because marketing addictive substances to children is unethical. Although it is vital to strengthen regulation on vaping, we must not forget that smoking still remains a far greater risk. Smoking is killing too many of our loved ones. There have been 117,000 smoking-related deaths in the north-east since the turn of the millennium. This is a public health emergency, and the Government are dithering yet again. We have waited since 2017 for the promised update to the tobacco control plan. We heard, just a few weeks ago, Ministers’ proposals for achieving their smoke-free 2030 ambition. They will not achieve it because their proposals do not go far enough and their actions are not bold enough. As we have heard, the Khan review found that we will miss the target by at least seven years without bold action. In the poorest areas of the country, the target will not be reached until 2044.
We must encourage as many smokers as possible to quit their use of cigarettes, the most lethal consumer product, by any means that suit them, including the use of nicotine vapes. The Association of Directors of Public Health North East has made its position on vaping very clear, reassuring both the public and healthcare professionals that vaping poses only a fraction of the risks of smoking while, at the same time, stating clearly that vapes should not be accessible or appealing to young people.
Three quarters of adults in Great Britain support measures to prohibit vapes that appeal to children and the promotion of vapes in shops, which is currently legal. We have a lot of evidence to support the fact that vapes play a very important role in helping adult smokers to quit, but they should never be marketed towards children. As I mentioned earlier, marketing an addictive substance to children is unethical. Let us remember that nicotine carries health risks. Vaping may be preferable to tobacco as a cessation aid, but we have to remain vigilant to the risks to oral and respiratory health.
Underage vaping has increased by 50% over the past three years, and it is happening under the Government’s watch. They have had several opportunities to act: I tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill; the Khan review was based on research and evidence; and ASH, Fresh, Cancer Research UK and others have provided evidence. There is no excuse for this delay. The first duty of a Government is to protect their citizens; Ministers are failing in their duties to our young people. Since Conservative Members voted down Labour’s amendments to tackle youth vaping, countless children have no doubt fallen victim to the disgraceful and unethical marketing of vapes allowed by this Government. How many more children must become addicted to nicotine before Ministers finally take action?
I welcome this debate on a hugely important issue that gives rise to related concerns. Recent research shows that 24% of children have used a vape and 11% of secondary school pupils would describe themselves as regular vape users. The data that has been disclosed in today’s article in The Northern Echo reveals that nearly 100,000 children in the north-east have tried vaping. Those figures should be of great concern to all of us.
First, I commend my hon. Friend Dr Johnson for the amazing work she has done on this issue. She is my longest friend in politics and I wholeheartedly support her ten-minute rule Bill to prohibit the sale of disposable e-cigarettes. She is right in seeking to end the problems caused by these products. If they were simply used to wean smokers off cigarettes, they would be doing their job, but we know from the debate that they are doing far more harm than that. One key point that she has raised is that although vaping manufacturers often insist that their products are intended for adults only, they design their products with descriptions, colourings and flavourings that, as we have heard, appeal to a far more impressionable audience.
One of my biggest concerns is that we simply do not know the long-term effects of vaping, as e-cigarettes are very new. Let us not forget that there once was a time when cigarettes were considered safe. We know that e-cigarettes or vapes contain carcinogens, cytotoxins and genotoxins. A recent freedom of information request found that vaping-related hospital admissions almost doubled last year, with 32 of those cases involving children. The simple fact is that we do not know how bad the problem is.
I know that children’s vaping is a serious concern in my constituency, where parents are increasingly worried that children are being targeted by brands, with social pressures resulting in more children becoming addicted. At the beginning of this year, Darlington Borough Council began a crackdown on the trade of illegal tobacco and vape products. It began under the previous Conservative administration in Darlington and I hope that its work will continue under the new Labour and Liberal Democrat administration. As a result of that crackdown, a huge amount of counterfeit tobacco and fake vape products were seized, and numerous premises have either been closed down or are under further investigation. Sadly, this is like a case of whack-a-mole: one trader is stopped and another two replace them. Whether we are talking about underage sales or child exploitation, using vapes as a reward, or using children as couriers, we should be acutely aware of the risk to young people in our community from those who would engage in such criminal activity. There is a concern that criminals have now latched on to this market of illicit products to undercut legitimate goods, with a network of organised criminals operating in the background to feed the vaping issue.
I wish to highlight to the House the issue raised by my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes about the location of vaping products in Southampton. In conversation with me, my hon. Friend Dr Evans highlighted concerns raised in his community about the siting of vapes in a supermarket. He launched a campaign in his constituency to have those relocated. He tells me that it was well met by the supermarket, so there is perhaps a lesson for us all to raise that issue in our respective local community supermarkets.
Local trading standards teams, such as those in Darlington, rely on local information and intelligence to tackle the issue of purchases of illegal and fake products. I urge everybody to encourage those in their communities to report such issues to trading standards departments.
We must stop children from vaping. My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham’s proposal to ban disposable electronic cigarettes is excellent, and I hope that her Bill is successful.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech articulating the risks of vapes in terms of the public health of our young people and the environmental concerns with their disposal, but we are also seeing increasing issues with animals. When I was out walking my young dog, Poppy, the other day, she went into the undergrowth and came out with a bright pink, melon-flavoured disposable vape. She was just about to crunch it and swallow it, when I took it out of her mouth. I shudder to think what would have happened if she had crunched and swallowed it, because it was a foreign body, containing a battery and toxic compounds. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that we just do not know the risks to people, the environment and animals?
As an expert on animals, my hon. Friend will be acutely aware of the risks to animals of ingesting a battery. We know there are concerns about the disposal of vaping products. He leads me to recall the campaign led by my hon. Friend Jo Gideon on button batteries; this debate highlights similar issues.
I believe that the time has come for us to consider licensing the retail sale of tobacco products as a means of tackling those traders engaged in the sale of illegal, fake and contraband tobacco and nicotine products. We know such sales fuel organised crime gangs, so licensing is another way of cutting off that money supply.
Finally, I ask the Government to consider a cross-departmental strategy, across the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education, and working with local authorities, to ensure that we have the right legislation in place to tackle these challenges, including the correct disposal and recycling of all the paraphernalia.
I thank my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for choosing this important topic for debate.
I recognise that encouraging the use of e-cigarettes is a vital part of the Government’s strategy for a smokefree 2030. I am a member of the Health and Social Care Committee, and two weeks ago I listened to the expert panel and heard some of their disturbing evidence. It is worrying that the risks associated with vaping are still unclear, as long-term studies do not exist.
I was a nurse for 25 years. Believe me, there is no one who wants to support effective public health measures as passionately as I do, but I am concerned. It is illegal to sell vapes containing nicotine to anyone under the age of 18, but, in 2021, over 20% of children aged 11 to 15 had tried vaping. Clearly, something is not working. At the Health and Social Care Committee, I asked the panel about banning vape sticks, but was struck by the answer that banning them would drive them underground, which worried me.
One secondary school in my constituency told me:
“Vaping has massively increased with children—they are too easy to obtain and the negative consequences are not fully appreciated by the children. Vapes are also being used as a method of supplying harder drugs, which is a wider issue across our estate.”
Forty children and young people were admitted to hospital in England last year owing to vaping-related disorders. We have all seen reports about some of the terrible symptoms that they have experienced, from seizures and shortness of breath, to hypertension and high blood pressure. The Khan review, published last year, recommended that the Government do everything they possibly can to prevent children and young people from vaping.
If Conservative Members are really committed to doing everything they possibly can, they could start by fixing the mess that they have created in the NHS and attempting to make new records, rather than those they are currently achieving for the longest waiting list, the highest vacancies and the most disruptive delays. Doctors and nurses are working incredibly hard, but there are just not enough of them. Vital spaces in hospital beds across the country are being taken up by people who cannot access mental health or social care services and so cannot be discharged.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warned that youth vaping is becoming an epidemic and that the number of children admitted to hospital as a result of vaping has almost quadrupled in two years. Our NHS cannot afford for the Government not to take this issue seriously.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall say this until I am blue in the face: public health is chronically underfunded and prevention is key. If we cannot stop children vaping once they have started, we need to make sure that they never start in the first place. The potential risks associated with vaping, especially for children living under a Conservative Government who are set on wrecking our NHS, are just too great. We need a Government who will prioritise prevention and support the NHS to take this issue seriously before the problem escalates any further.
I thank the Labour Front-Bench team for a great choice of debate today. I thank, too, all those Members who have made nice comments about me today. I agree with the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, my hon. Friend Steve Brine, who said that it is a shame to see children’s health being made a party political issue, because surely everybody in this House, from every party, wants children’s health to be as good as possible. In that vein I declare an interest as both a consultant paediatrician and a member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
I was pleased to see the shadow Minister talk about Laranya Caslin, the headteacher of St George’s Academy in Sleaford, who spoke so eloquently at the Select Committee about her experiences of children vaping in her school. Let me reflect on some of the things that she said. She said that there was heavy peer pressure in school encouraging children to vape. She said that vaping was seen to be cool and that children had to vape to feel that they were part of the in-group. She also talked about how it has a higher burden of addiction. She said that, sometimes, children would go out at break time to have a cigarette, or to share a cigarette with friends, but now they vape not just during break times but need to top up during lessons. That continual top-up is something that we see in Parliament, too. Yesterday, while eating in the Tea Room, a Member of the House was vaping at the table. It must be said that we did have quite a long session of votes yesterday. During voting, in the Labour Members’ cloakroom, a Member of the Opposition Front Bench was sat vaping. We are seeing people topping up anywhere and everywhere it would seem, and that is something that I would like to see stop.
As many Members have mentioned, the flavours and colours of vapes are very child-friendly: there are even unicorn flavours, which I struggle to believe are directed at teenagers, never mind adults. My 12-year-old would not thank you for anything with a unicorn on, because that is very much for younger children. Indeed, we saw in the Healthwatch survey that 11% of 10 and 11-year-olds are already vaping. That grew to 42.4% of 16 to 17-year-olds, with a gradual increase during the teenage years. Laranya Caslin also told us that flavours are important to the peer pressure on children to vape. She talked about how children would discuss, “Have you tried the cherry cola? Have you tried the unicorn milkshake? Have you tried the green gummy bear?” It is the flavours that enable that discussion to take place among peers, which encourages children.
I asked the industry representative, “Why do you need these flavours? Why can’t you make them basic mint flavour, no flavour at all, or tobacco flavour?” He said that when people smoke they lose their sense of taste to an extent. Indeed, the NHS website says that one of the benefits of stopping smoking is that after 48 hours a sense of taste will start to return. What the industry has found, it told me, is that if it has tobacco or plain flavoured vapes, people will move off smoking on to the vape, but when their tastebuds return they will not like the vape anymore and will discontinue their vape use. That is of course what we want them to do, but it is perhaps not what the industry wants them to do. Making it cherry cola flavoured, bubble gum flavoured, or whatever flavour the person likes to inhale means that they will continue to be addicted to that product and continue to use it. I encourage the Minister to consider that when she considers banning flavours, or which flavours should be allowed to be used.
The ten-minute rule Bill that I introduced on
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that the whole way these things are designed seems as if it is to prevent them from being recycled? They are impossible to take to bits. They contain, as she said, plastic, which is then infused with other substances. There are lithium batteries, and all manner of things. How would one possibly go about recycling that properly? I think that the answer is that one could not unless one were a specialist.
The hon. Lady is right: these things are incredibly difficult to recycle, and since 70% of children use disposable vapes, and they are the most attractive and cheapest for children to use, it is increasingly important that we ensure that they are not available. The call to ban disposables has been backed by a wide variety of people, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, of which I am a member, the Children’s Commissioner, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There is a widespread desire across all parties, and across communities, to see these products banned.
The industry said at the Select Committee that a ban will drive the industry underground and make things illicit, but as we heard from the hon. Lady earlier, that is already happening. There are already illicit vapes. When a school in my constituency confiscated five vapes and the police tested them, they found antifreeze and all sorts of products, including trichloroethylene, which was banned before I was born. All those types of products are contained in vapes already, so that cat is very much already out of the bag and should not dissuade us from getting rid of these disposable products.
We also heard on the Health and Social Care Committee about the health challenges. We hear that vapes are 95% safer than smoking. The industry continues to repeat that statistic. Where does it come from? How could anyone possibly quantify that? It comes from 2013, when a group of people who were not specifically experts in tobacco control got together and had a discussion. They then published a paper. Let me read something that was published in The Lancet at the time, which was more than 10 years ago. The editorial of The Lancet said:
“But neither PHE nor McNeill and Hajek report the caveats that Nutt and colleagues themselves emphasised in their paper. First, there was a ‘lack of hard evidence for the harms of most products on most of the criteria’. Second, ‘there was no formal criterion for the recruitment of the experts’. In other words, the opinions of a small group of individuals with no prespecified expertise in tobacco control were based on an almost total absence of evidence of harm. It is on this extraordinarily flimsy foundation that PHE based the major conclusion and message of its report.”
The Lancet also noted that
“one of the authors of the Nutt paper…reports serving as a consultant to…an e-cigarette distributor”, and that another
“reports serving as a consultant to manufacturers of smoking cessation products.”
In the Westminster Hall debate on
We also heard about children being frightened to go into toilets, as the Select Committee Chair said. Some of those children were frightened to do so because they found that when they did, it triggered their asthma symptoms. Those are children who do not vape, but who have asthma and are frightened to go into the toilets because there is so much vaping vapour left in the toilets by other children that it is triggering their asthma and making them unwell. Some of these children are unable to go to the toilet all day, which leads them to have problems not only with asthma, but with urinary retention, which potentially leaves them at risk of urinary infection and incontinence issues in later life. It is for that reason that Dr Stewart from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told us that she supported a ban on the use of vaping in public places.
I would also like the Minister to look at the use of accessories. On Etsy.com today, under the categories “girly smoking accessories” or “cute smoking accessories”, for £7.78—within the pocket money range—one can buy a teddy bear vape stand. It is a tiny teddy bear that people can stand their vape in when they are not using it. Will the Minister look at whether such items are suitable for sale, given that they are essentially there to attract children to this activity?
Moving on to advertising, we have a bizarre situation where Transport for London banned an advert for “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” that initially featured a picture of a three-tier wedding cake, because it would encourage people to eat fat, salt and sugar and that might drive the obesity crisis. That was on the tube, yet TfL buses have many adverts for vaping, including ones that appear to me personally to make vaping look cool and something to be aspired to.
I think TfL’s priorities are all wrong. The London Bus Advertising group states, as part of the group’s advertising to encourage people to put their adverts on the buses, that 5.8 million people would see the buses per week. I would ask those on the shadow Front Bench to use their good offices with the Labour Mayor of London to consider whether he can influence the chair of TfL to remove not just cake adverts, but vaping adverts from places such as tubes, buses and taxis, where they may be seen by children.
In the Minister’s opening remarks he talked about tobacco track and trace, and I wonder whether he is planning to bring in the same for vaping.
The other thing I want to talk about is taxation. Other hon. Members have talked about the price of disposable vapes and how they are accessible with pocket money. Very rarely comes an opportunity for a Chancellor to bring in a tax that will promote the public’s health, still make vaping cheaper than smoking, protect our children’s health and be relatively popular, yet raise revenue. While we wait to ban the disposable versions, I encourage the Chancellor to consider adding at the next fiscal event perhaps £5 to the price of a vape, to move them out of the pocket money range.
In summary, the Minister needs to look at a whole range of measures to challenge children’s vaping, including price, location, sale and use, colours, flavours, disposable items, advertising, education and enforcement.
I join Members from across the House in expressing concern about the way in which vaping is marketed to, and taken up by, children.
We have heard that vaping is a useful tool to help people to quit smoking, and that it is safer than smoking tobacco and cuts down the chances of developing conditions such as cancer. However, the Liberal Democrats are deeply concerned by the rise and prevalence of single-use disposable vapes, which are explicitly targeted at young people, be it through the use of brightly coloured advertisements, a range of playful colours or their placement near the front of supermarkets. We must ensure that young people do not become addicted to those products, and that vapes do not become a gateway to smoking. I am grateful to Caroline Nokes, who, during her excellent speech, referred to the location of vape bars in supermarkets. I will expand on that point by talking a little about my own experience of it.
A few months ago, a parent of a student at Tiverton High School in Devon reached out to me as he was deeply concerned by the rise in the theft of vapes from our local Morrisons supermarket, which is just a short walk from Tiverton High School, making it easily accessible before and after school, and perhaps during lunch breaks. I visited the store and found that the vape stand was indeed right next to the shop entrance, offering a range of single-use disposable vapes. My staff spoke to the staff at the store, and it emerged that that spot was, yes, chosen by the vendor. The vendor specifically insisted on the vape stand being at the front of the shop in that way, and paid extra for it. As is the case in other supermarkets, the security team were not regularly stationed by the front of the shop, so it seemed ludicrous to me and my team that those products were placed so close to the door and left unprotected.
We took up the cause and campaigned with community representatives, including those from Tiverton High School, and spoke with staff from Morrisons to get that changed. After a short investigation, the store offered first to have a security guard stand next to the vape stand, but clearly, that was not enough. I am pleased to say that, after a lot of pressure, the vapes are now kept safely behind security doors, which are locked during school opening and closing periods on weekdays, meaning that vapes can be bought only from the kiosk.
That is very welcome news. I thank and pay tribute to Frazer Gould, from my part of Devon, who raised this issue with me. I do not think it should take a constituent lobbying a Member of Parliament, and that Member of Parliament getting directly involved, to ensure that those addictive products are not left openly accessible to young people.
The hon. Member is making an excellent speech. It is very helpful of him to point out the constructive actions of his constituent in this regard, although he is correct to say that it is we who should act. We should appreciate all the constituents of ours who are very focused on this, including my constituent Laura Young, who has done so much work to try to get vapes off our streets.
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I also pay tribute to other constituents of mine: many of the young people who attend Tiverton High School. I do not want to mischaracterise them as people who are only out to steal vape bars from the supermarket at lunch times. I have been to that school several times, and there are some brilliant pupils there. Many of them are aware of the risks of becoming addicted to vape bars.
The campaigners, the high school and my team have worked with Morrisons and we have got that arrangement in place, but that is clearly just one arrangement with one supermarket. What we definitely need to do is think about single-use vape bars in the round. It is clear that we need to ban the sale of single-use disposable vapes, clamp down on the appealing packaging and the advertising of those products, and ensure that the shameless vaping companies cannot get our children hooked on those addictive devices.
One of the great pleasures of being tail-end Charlie in these debates is that one has the opportunity to sit through and listen to every contribution. The disadvantage is getting nudged to hurry up by those on the Front Bench. So, I have torn up my original speech, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will focus instead on the bits from the contributions of others that you did not have the opportunity to hear yourself.
There have been lots of interesting suggestions on how we can solve this problem, which we all agree needs to be addressed. I am a father of teenage children as well, and I share the concerns of my hon. Friend Steve Brine. I have experience of my own children’s friends using vapes—their friends, I hasten to add.
As the hon. Lady says, that is what they all say. Obviously that is wholly inappropriate, but part of the problem in reaching the correct solution to this shared concern has been demonstrated by the richness of the debate we have had today.
All sorts of suggestions have been made. My non-exhaustive list indicates that some hon. Members said that we should ban flavours. Some of them said that we should ban all flavours; others said that we should ban only flavours that are targeted directly at young palates. There have been suggestions that we should ban disposable vapes, or that we should require bland packaging for vapes, although others suggested that the issue is not so much the packaging as the fact that they should be hidden behind closed doors. There has been a suggestion that we should increase the cost of vapes, but that was controversial—Mary Glindon rightly pointed out that for adults seeking to give up smoking who are on very limited means, the cost of vapes is a very relevant consideration.
The cost is indeed important, both in pricing children out of the pocket money market and in ensuring that smokers who are seeking to quit can do so. However, to a smoker who can afford a packet of cigarettes, even if £5 is put on the cost of a disposable vape, as my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes described, the vape is still cheaper.
I am grateful for that intervention. I do not have skin in the game about whether it is better to have a higher cost or a lower cost, but my hon. Friend’s intervention has highlighted my fundamental point, which is that this is a complex area where we need evidence to base our policy on.
It has been suggested that we should crack down on marketing. Others have suggested that we should increase education in schools, and there is a wider debate about schools policy and the use of loos in schools. There are other concerns, overriding all of these, about what impact our actions in relation to vapes—including single-use vapes—could have on the ability of adults to give up smoking, in order to continue the downward trend of smoking addiction in this country. These are serious and interrelated issues. If this debate were to result in a Division, there is no way that I could support the Labour motion, which focuses solely on banning branding and advertising for the young, because it may not go far enough. It may just focus on one little area, when the richness of the debate on both sides has highlighted how much wider and more complex the issue is.
As such, what we are really talking about is not so much our concerns about vaping, including by children: the main issue is, “How should we make our law?” It is a given on both sides of the Chamber that action should be taken, and the first speech on behalf of the Government, made by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien made it clear that the Government have already acted and are intending to go further. In fact, the Secretary of State said at Health questions yesterday that the Government were looking to go further, particularly on single-use disposables. It is not a question of whether we are going to act: the question is, on what basis do we act? For my money, we should act on the evidence and not solely on anecdote, important though that is.
Order. I would gently say that the hon. Lady has made a long contribution, and I do have two other speakers to get in. That is the only problem.
Thank you for that indication, Madam Deputy Speaker.
To wrap up my submissions, I will say that the Government are absolutely right to have put out a call for evidence. That evidence has now been obtained, last month, and the Government should take every second that is needed to assess it and come up with draft proposals, but not a second longer, because this is a very important issue. As a parent, I share the concerns that have been expressed across the House. We need to address this issue—we cannot waste time—but we should do so based on the evidence.
I draw attention to my role as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health.
Perhaps I could start my speech with a quiz, although I do not really want any answers because that would in effect name killer cigarettes. No. 1: which brand is promoted here?
“Give your throat a vacation…Smoke a fresh cigarette”.
That brand was promoted with a picture of an ear, nose and throat specialist holding what was described as a “germ-proof” pack of cigarettes as he had tested the brand’s ability to filter the
“peppery dust…that makes you cough.”
No. 2: Cigares De Joy makes the claim that these cigarettes benefit those suffering from
“asthma, cough, bronchitis, hay-fever, influenza &
shortness of breath”.
No. 3, and I will name this one for context: Eve, the cigarette for the “feminine woman”, packaged in a box with a floral design, with ads claiming:
“Flowers on the outside. Flavor on the inside.”
I remember the former Member for Broxtowe, Anna Soubry, speaking of the sophisticated, long, slimline menthol cigarettes that were a passion in her days.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other adverts promoting cigarettes that we can see online today. Yes, there is cigarette advertising selling the health benefits or the glamorous, sophisticated femininity of a killer product that we all know would never be allowed to be manufactured if someone came up with the idea today. The laws, over the years, have put those ads into the past, but the tobacco companies have always been very clever in their marketing. Let us be in no doubt but that, for generations, they have always had their eye on the next generation of smokers, with children very much in their sights. Now we have e-cigarettes, many of them manufactured by the same tobacco companies, which are becoming increasingly popular with children and young people. When I drive past local secondary schools, it is common to see young people—it appears more girls than boys—sucking away on one of these devices. The advertising of them is a real throwback to those days I have described, when cigarettes were sold as healthy, sophisticated products that everybody should use.
Yesterday, at Health and Social Care questions, I asked the Secretary of State why he has not acted to stop the new range of advertisements for e-cigarettes featuring gummy bears and Skittles, with bright colours and cartoon characters on packaging and labelling, by adopting Labour’s amendment—that of my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy—to the Health and Care Bill to ban such advertising. He answered that
“we have already taken action. We took measures in April, and the Prime Minister announced further measures in May. We are keen to follow the evidence. That is why we have had a call for evidence. The ministerial team are looking extremely closely at this, and we will take further action to clamp down on something that we all recognise is a risk to children, which is why we are acting on it.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 736, c. 156.]
But he is not acting on advertising. He could put a stop to it now. I take issue with people who say that this is not a political issue, because Ministers have taken what I can only describe as a political choice to do nothing in this space. The Minister asked my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne for specific things that need to be done. Well, an advertising ban is very specific.
No, I will not.
Yes, something may change in the future, but we need action now. I think the Immigration Minister would probably agree with us—he had the cartoon characters in a detention centre painted over because they were too welcoming and attractive. I will not condone that callous approach to children by the Immigration Minister, but I am sure he would agree that such attractive things should be removed from vape advertising and packs.
I well remember my original ten-minute rule Bill and other Back-Bench Bills to outlaw smoking in cars with children present. Ministers refused to back the measure, even though 600,000 children every day had to share their driver’s smoke. Three years later, the Health Minister, the then MP for Battersea, proposed her own amendment. To be fair, she did acknowledge my work and that of organisations such as the British Lung Foundation, Action on Smoking and Health, and Fresh. The Minister said then that the Government were following the evidence, but there had been years of it, and we do not need any more evidence for the Secretary of State to follow in relation to the advertising of e-cigarettes. It is already plain to see.
The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned speech, which includes a great deal of discussion about advertising. Would he care to comment on the advertising for vapes on London buses?
That is an interesting question. I would not personally want to see the advertising of vapes on London buses, particularly if they appeal to children.
It has been plain that manufacturers are directly targeting young people. I do not know whether gummy bears and Skittles are akin to the claimed glamour and sophistication of cigarettes, but the advertising is promoting a product with the kind of modern images that appeal to youngsters. We must not forget that e-cigarettes have their place, but that is as an adult quitting aid, not a child’s toy or sweet substitute.
In my area, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust now includes vapes as part of its adult in-patient tobacco dependency treatment service. Vapes are offered as part of a wider toolkit of treatments available to those who smoke on admission to hospital, alongside nicotine replacement therapy and specialist behavioural support. Patients are provided with support to remain smoke-free during their hospital admission, and following discharge home. Reducing exposure to second-hand smoke has been a priority of mine for many years, and led to that ban on smoking in cars with children present in 2015.
We have known for a long time that breathing in tobacco smoke concentrated in enclosed places is harmful, and at its worst deadly, particularly when children are involved. For parents and carers addicted to nicotine, replacing cigarettes with vapes can substantially reduce the risks to their children. However, promoting vapes to adults as a quitting aid should not go hand in hand with the dreadful marketing of vapes to children. Requiring standardised packaging for vapes is essential, and the Government can be reassured that that has strong public and political support. Indeed, it may not be a political issue, because Members across the House support it. The overwhelming majority of the public would like us to go further and ban all advertising and promotion in shops, which is currently unregulated.
When I walk into shops in my local constituency—I am sure I am not alone in this—e-cigarettes are promoted everywhere. As others have said, vapes are thrust in children’s faces in all kinds of shops, at the till or by the sweets, which is totally unacceptable. When the Government respond to the consultation on youth vaping in the autumn, I urge them to commit to bringing forward legislation to ban not just the child-friendly branding of vapes, but their in-store promotion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said, we must not forget the issue of smoking itself, which is still the leading cause of premature death and inequalities in healthy life expectancy across society. Smoking does not just damage people’s health; it undermines our nation’s productivity, costing more than £20 billion a year to our public finances for health, social care and social security.
I know that the Minister is committed to achieving the Government’s smoke-free 2030 ambition, and I welcomed the measures announced earlier this year to support smokers to quit with free vapes, and to provide additional support to help pregnant smokers quit. However, those were only a tiny proportion of the measures recommended by the independent review that the Government commissioned from Javed Khan, to provide advice on how to achieve the smoke-free ambition. Indeed, the funding was only a quarter of that called for by Javed Khan, and the commitment was for only two years. Meanwhile, big tobacco continues to make extreme profits by selling highly addictive, lethal products. A levy on the industry is popular, feasible, and supported by voters of all political persuasions, as well as by the majority of tobacco retailers. The manufacturers have the money, and they should be made to pay to end the epidemic.
In a debate in the House on
Twenty-nine years ago I handed in my dissertation for my degree. It was focused on tobacco advertising, and the very arguments being made today by the industry were being made back then as to why it was so important that advertising should not be prohibited further. That is why today’s debate should be as much about the business model, driven by the industry, as about the harm from these products to children and young people. I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne on bringing this motion before the House, because the timing is so important. Some 30% of children and young people across Yorkshire have already tried vaping and we know, as we move into that summer period, that more and more children will be socialising outside of school time, and those risks will go up, as will the number of adults we see vaping.
I was honoured to sit on the Health and Social Care Committee as we took evidence from the industry, health professionals and an articulate headteacher talking about their experiences. What I have to say back is that over the past 29 years, we have seen an industry that has become far cannier in how it advertises and markets its products than it was in yesteryear. The situation calls on the Government to step up and be far cannier in being able to expediently put in place the full range of measures that we know will have an impact on the number of young people taking up vaping.
We welcome the reduction in the number of children smoking cigarettes, and we have seen that important shift over the decades. We know the measures that have levered that in—increasing the cost has certainly had an effect, and making smoking less accessible and less attractive has had an impact—but what also needs to be learned is that the very mechanisms put in place around cigarettes need to be applied immediately to vaping, too.
If we look at some of the measures introduced over the past 20 years, we have seen the billboards taken down along with newspaper and magazine advertising, the removal of tobacco from promotions, its removal from sport, its access taken away in shops, the shutters put down, vending machines taken away and these products being put out of use. There were also important public health measures to move away from indoor smoking and, as my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham has just said, smoking in cars where there are children. We also had that important intervention on plain packaging, which we know Israel and Finland have already introduced for e-cigarettes. There is therefore no reason for a delay here.
The industry is using every reason it can consider as to why it needs to continue using advertising. I cross-examined the industry at the Select Committee. To summarise some of the exchange, we were discussing why Blackburn Rovers had those products on the shirts of the heroes of that town. The industry was saying, “It’s really important that we distract people from tobacco products on to our products, because that is our public health measure.” I challenged back and said, “Why don’t you have public health messaging on those shirts instead?” Of course, they argued that that would not work, because they wanted to draw in the next generation of people to use their products. That is what the industry has always been about: it is about generating profit for its shareholders. When it did that with tobacco-based products, ultimately its customers died. That was not the best business model it could induce. With vaping, the industry wants to make sure it has a continuous stream of addicts, and we need to understand that business model to introduce the public health measures needed around harm reduction.
If we look at the figures, we see that a YouGov survey showed that of the 3.6 million adults who are vaping, 2 million are ex-smokers who have now returned to using a nicotine-based product, 1.4 million are current smokers and 200,000 have never smoked and are vaping. Another survey showed that of the people who were vaping, only 47% were also smokers, and 53% were not. We can deduce from that that the reach of these measures and the availability of vaping products means they are being used far beyond the purposes that Public Health England intended and that Javed Khan put in his report to reduce people’s use of tobacco-based products. As a result, we are seeing more people drawn into an addictive habit, addicted to nicotine and able to use it more regularly and with far more availability. They are therefore taking on higher quantities of this drug, and we are seeing the consequences of that.
The call for taking all the same measures currently in place for cigarettes is therefore vital. ASH and others recommend putting an excise tax of £5 on the product, and we will need to adjust the cost of cigarettes in line with that to ensure that they remain less attractive. We need to ensure that we have investment in the trading standards workforce to address the illicit trade we see in counterfeit products, with the dangers they cause. On branding, it is very clear that plain packaging is required. We must remove the cartoons, the sweet names, the colours and the flavours that are currently being propagated. We must also ensure that promotion is not possible in any sphere. Ultimately, we need to ensure that these products are used only for harm reduction and take that really important whole approach to public health as opposed to looking at one product or another.
We have got to question why young people are taking up the use of nicotine. Yes, there is peer pressure—of course, we understand that, and that is really important. We heard about how children discuss the different flavours and try them out, using the product more and more as a result. Yes, there is the power of advertising—why else would companies advertise but to attract custom? But why is it that young people need a dependency on a drug? We need to get to the heart of that question through a wider public health approach. I am very disappointed that the Government have pulled away from some of their public health strategies, including the health disparities White Paper and bringing forward a more holistic approach to public health. Ultimately, we have got to protect young people from becoming the addicts of the future. That is the role of this Parliament
I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in what has been a largely consensual debate. We have heard from colleagues across the House about the growth in the number of children who are vaping, concerns about physical and mental health impacts, the disruption to education and the drain on staff time in schools.
The Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Steve Brine, spoke of the evidence that the Committee has heard on the impact of vaping on the education of students, including interruptions to exams. My hon. Friend Mr Sharma highlighted the ongoing prevalence of smoking and the need for further work to tackle illegal tobacco sales as well as work to tackle vaping. Caroline Nokes spoke about the important role of vapes in smoking cessation. There is no disagreement from the Opposition on that. I am not so grateful to her for taking me back to the revolting smoke-filled environment of the toilets in my secondary school in the 1980s, which is a memory that I had long since sought to banish.
My hon. Friend Mary Glindon spoke about the need for better enforcement of the existing age verification regulations regarding vapes. Maggie Throup highlighted the sophistication of the packaging, design and presentation of vaping products in retail outlets and how attractive that makes them. My hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy, who has a long track record of work on this issue, highlighted the extent of the evidence on vaping that is already available to the Government. Peter Gibson highlighted the impact of disposable vapes on the environment and the increase in plastic pollution. My hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton spoke from her experience as a former nurse and highlighted the serious problem of vaping equipment being used to distribute more dangerous substances by young people.
Dr Johnson, who spoke from her extensive work on this subject, highlighted concerns about the accuracy of data on the safety of vaping. Richard Foord spoke about work in his constituency that shows it is possible for retailers to take a different approach to vapes. My hon. Friend Alex Cunningham highlighted the Government’s failure to act on advertising. My hon. Friend Rachael Maskell spoke about the lessons that can be learned from the anti-smoking measures that have been so successful as well as the need to recognise this issue as one of addiction and to locate it in the wider landscape of the addiction economy.
Vaping has shifted from a smoking cessation tool to a recreational activity in its own right, driven by the rapacious desire of tobacco companies—which fund many of the largest vape suppliers—to keep making a profit from the highly addictive substance of nicotine. The growth in the use of vapes by 11 to 15-year-olds has been rapid, increasing by 50% in the past three years. One in five 11 to 15-year-olds in England used vapes in 2021. The figure will be higher now.
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. 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 worsened mood disorders.
The brain develops gradually over time, and is thought to continue developing in people until they are 25. Some countries have different age limits for different things. Does the hon. Member think that 18 is the right age limit for vaping?
The hon. Member speaks from her experience on this issue. We have set out a motion containing some immediate actions that the Government can take, which are well-evidenced, particularly from the approach taken to combat smoking. I agree that the Government should look urgently at other aspects of the regulatory framework on vaping, some of which we have heard about today.
Vaping products are marketed directly to children, named after sweets such as gummy bears, Skittles and tutti frutti, in brightly coloured packaging decorated with cartoon characters. There is also evidence, including from research undertaken by one of my constituents who I met during evidence week last week, of the burgeoning growth in vaping among 18 to 25-year-olds, almost entirely unrelated to smoking cessation. A new generation of vaping products has been designed to be desirable objects in their own right. If action is not taken to tackle the accessibility of vaping to children, we can only expect vaping among young adults to continue to grow.
The current law prohibits the sale of vapes to under-18-year-olds. We are not proposing a change in the law on the prohibition of sale. I was simply highlighting that young people grow, and those who become addicted to vaping under the age of 18 are much more likely to carry that addiction into young adulthood. That was the point that I was seeking to make. We can expect a pipeline of young people becoming addicted to vaping, which may stay with some of them for the rest of their lives.
This Government have been asleep at the wheel on children and vaping. They had the opportunity to vote for measures to protect children from vaping last year but failed to do so. The measures that the Minister has announced most recently are better late than never, but are simply inadequate to the task. ASH is clear that while educating young people on the risks of vaping through a new resource pack for schools is welcome, the evidence suggests that education alone will not stop children from vaping.
There is substantial evidence on what worked in reducing smoking rates among children. In 1982, when England first started monitoring smoking rates among children, one in five children was a current smoker. Eighteen years later in 2000, the proportion was exactly the same—not because children were not educated about the dangers, but because adolescents are risk takers. Between 2000 and 2021, smoking rates among children fell from 19% to just 3%—not because of better education or enforcement 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 the UK Border Force, which dramatically reduced sales of illicit tobacco, and cigarettes were put in standardised packaging, with all the brightly coloured glamourised packaging 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. Labour is calling on the Government to ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children, and to work with local councils—
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She has taken a number of interventions from colleagues. The motion refers to children. The shadow Minister commented that there is no proposal, under a Labour Government, to change the age of 18 for purchasing tobacco. By process of elimination, does the word “children” in the motion refer to anyone under the age of 18? Will she clarify that point?
I am sure Members across the House do not need much help from me to identify the definition of a child in law as being a person under the age of 18. I will simply move on from there.
What I will say about the motion is that it sets out measures over which I think there can be no disagreement. There can be no disagreement about advertising targeted at children. Measures to deal with packaging that appeals to children could be introduced right now and would have a direct impact on the very alarming numbers of children and young people who are vaping. This has been a very consensual debate, which has acknowledged and set out some of the complexities around the issue, as well as some areas where the Government should be looking at additional regulations and the wider regulatory framework around vaping. I do not think there is disagreement on that either. What we are setting out today is immediate action that is long, long overdue. Frankly, we struggle to see why the Government have been dragging their heels, refusing to act and not accepting these measures.
As I said, Labour is calling on the Government to ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children, and to work with local councils and the NHS to help ensure that e-cigarettes are used as an aid to stop smoking, rather than as a new form of smoking and addiction. It is inexplicable that the Government are resistant to those entirely proportionate and evidence-based proposals. If they will not act to protect children and young people, the next Labour Government certainly will.
I thank the many right hon. and hon. Members who have made a valuable contribution to this afternoon’s debate. I will respond to the issues they have raised throughout my remarks.
I will start, without dismissing many of the concerns we have heard, by reiterating the importance of vapes in helping smokers move to healthier alternatives than cigarettes. Vapes are helping us to reach our smokefree 2030 target. There are currently about 3.5 million vapers in England, 47% of whom are ex-smokers and 39% of whom are dual users. The best thing, obviously, is for a smoker to stop smoking completely, but as shown in the recently published “Nicotine Vaping in England” report, there is clear evidence that vapes are substantially less harmful to health than smoking. With around 3 million users, vapes have become the most popular quitting aid in England and evidence indicates that they can help smokers to quit, particularly when combined with additional support from local stop smoking services.
That is why, in April this year, the Government announced a range of new measures to meet our smokefree 2030 ambition and reduce youth vaping. We have 1 million smokers who will be encouraged to swap their cigarettes for vapes through a new national “swap to stop” scheme, the first of its kind in the world. Pregnant women will be offered financial incentives, in the form of vouchers, to help them to stop smoking, alongside behavioural support. We will also consult on introducing mandatory cigarette pack inserts with positive messages and information to help people quit smoking. It is important to point those out, as the hon. Members for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) and for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) did.
I thank the hon. Lady for that point, which my hon. Friend Dr Johnson also raised. The 2015 evidence study was indeed conducted by Public Health England. The most recent evidence we have, from 2022, does not give that precise figure; it does emphasise that vaping is safer than smoking, but does not indicate by how much.
As the debate has made clear, despite vaping’s effectiveness as a tool to quit smoking, illegal under-age vape sales are a growing concern for many parents and teachers across the country, and vaping has increased rapidly among under-18s in the past 18 months. The recent rise in teenage users shows that vapes are being used beyond their intended audience. As my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes highlighted, there are multiple reasons for that, but whether it is packaging, naming or flavouring, the unintended consequences are clear. As my hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew pointed out, these consequences are not necessarily easy to deal with, as there may be unintended consequences of doing so—for example, tax increases on vapes might prevent people who want to give up smoking from doing so. There are no easy solutions, so we need to take our time before making further decisions. That is why in April we launched a call for evidence on youth vaping. It closed last month, and officials at the Department have begun to examine the responses. We will set out our response in the autumn.
Other speakers, such as my hon. Friend Maggie Throup spoke about why it is so important that we consider going further. My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who speaks with considerable experience, pointed out that this not a party political issue, but a cross-Government matter, with the Department of Health and Social Care dealing with safety, the Department for Education providing advice to children, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport dealing with the role of advertising, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dealing with the disposable products element. To stop children buying vapes, we also need businesses to comply with existing regulations and to abide by the standards we have set. To help enforcement of the regulations, we have teamed up with enforcement agencies to fund a new illicit vaping unit, which will remove products from shelves and at our borders, and stop the sale of vapes to children.
In May, the Prime Minister announced further measures, including closing a loophole that allows industry to give out free samples; increasing education and supporting designated school police liaison officers’ work to keep illegal vapes out of schools; and reviewing the rules on issuing on-the-spot fines to shops selling vapes to under-18s, as well as the rules on selling nicotine-free vapes to under-18s, to ensure that the rules keep pace with how vapes are being used. To respond to a point made by my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell, we are also looking at adding lessons on the health risks of vaping as part of the current RSE curriculum review. Those measures will help headteachers and other school leaders to manage vaping on school premises and inform young people about the risks of vaping, with a view to reducing the number of young people who are currently vaping or might be tempted to try it in the future.
As a number of speakers pointed out, we must of course be wary of the environmental impacts, in particular of single-use disposable vapes. Increasing use of these products is leading to their improper disposal. That is why DEFRA is soon to consult on reforming the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 to ensure that more of this material is properly recycled. We shall continue to work with the sector and industry to help businesses to understand their responsibilities, both to ensure that their environmental obligations are met, and to ensure that products are not marketed to children, are produced to the highest UK standards, and are compliant with our regulations.
I emphasise that until recently our vaping regulations have been effective in keeping rates of vaping among under-18s low, but of course we acknowledge that there are problems and that we have seen an increase in usage, which is why the consultation is about looking into what more we can do.
I welcome the consultation to tackle this problem, but will the Minister confirm that any appropriate measures that the Government take to reduce youth access to vapes will not harm our pragmatic science-led approach to ensuring that adults have access to the full range of alternatives to help them to quit cigarettes for good?
That is the balance we have to create. We do not want unintended consequences whereby we reduce the use of vapes in under-18s but also stop their use among those who are quitting smoking. We know from our evidence that vaping is much safer than smoking. For those communities, very often in deprived areas, where there are higher rates of smoking, we do not want the cost of vapes to be prohibitive and for people not to switch to them instead of smoking.
Our current laws protect children by restricting the sale of vapes to over-18s and limiting nicotine content, and there are regulations on refill bottles, tank sizes, labelling requirements and advertising restrictions. It is important that we remember that regulations are in place, and it is important that they are enforced.
The Minister is talking about evidence that vapes are much safer, but I notice that she has not used the 95% figure that is used by the industry. Clearly, the absence of evidence of harm and evidence of the absence of harm are different things, so will the Minister clarify whether she has evidence that vaping devices are much safer? Or does she just not have evidence yet, because they are so new, that they are not dangerous?
The evidence is there that vapes are considerably safer than smoking, and that was borne out in the 2022 report. The 95% figure was not used then, but I think there is a general consensus that, as the chief medical officer has said, vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.
It is important to remember that regulations are currently in place; it is about enforcing them, which is why the Government have introduced the illicit vape enforcement squad to tackle under-age vape sales, as well as the illicit products that young people can access. We are funding that with £3 million of Government funding.
We have to consider the evidence and that is not necessarily what the evidence says. NHS England is reviewing the number of admissions and incidents that it feels are caused by vaping, so we are gathering the evidence on that. We need to take an evidence-based approach and currently there is not the evidence that there is necessarily an addiction problem. But we do need to keep building the evidence base.
As we have set out today, we are committed to taking strong and assertive action to tackle youth vaping, and we are willing to go further as part of our evidence-based approach. We have to work with all parties and across Government. This is not just a health issue: it is an issue for the Department for Education, for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in terms of advertising, and for DEFRA in respect of how single-use vapes are disposed of.
We are committed to effectively tackling the issue and driving down youth vaping rates, while making sure that vapes are available to smokers as an effective aid to quitting smoking. We are committed to doing all we can to prevent children from starting vaping and we are actively working on ways that we can go further. We will go further in not only protecting children but driving down smoking rates, so that we make a future where people are not damaged by smoking. To meet our smokefree 2030 ambition, we will do all we can to prevent people from starting smoking in the first place and to give people the support that they need to quit.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
is concerned that children are being inappropriately exposed to e-cigarette promotions and that under-age vaping has increased by 50% in just the last three years;
condemns the Government for its failure to act to protect children by voting against the addition of measures to prohibit branding which is appealing to children on e-cigarette packaging during the passage of the Health and Care Act 2022 and for failing to bring forward the tobacco control plan that it promised by the end of 2021; and therefore calls on the Government to ban vapes from being branded and advertised to appeal to children and to work with local councils and the NHS to help ensure that e-cigarettes are being used as an aid to stop smoking, rather than as a new form of smoking.