Tobacco and Vapes Bill

– in the House of Commons at 1:25 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Votes in this debate

Second Reading

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Health and Social Care Committee on 5 February and 6 February 2024 (Q391-412), on Prevention in health and social care, HC 141]

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 1:35, 16 April 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I start, I should declare an interest: before I was elected to Parliament, I used to prosecute serious and organised crime, including organised crime gangs who attempted to import illicit cigarettes.

For a moment, I would like us to imagine that we are not in this historic and magnificent Chamber but instead standing at the entrance of a local hospital. A patient comes through the doors, struggling to breathe; smoking sent their asthma spiralling out of control. A minute later, another patient passes by; smoking caused the heart disease that they are battling. A minute later, another person comes in, and then another. That vicious cycle repeats itself nearly every minute of every day in our national health system, because here in the United Kingdom almost one hospital admission a minute is the human cost of smoking.

Smoking leaves people with premature dementia. It puts them in care, attached to oxygen, for the rest of their life. It increases the risk of stillbirth by almost 50%. It is responsible for 75,000 GP appointments every month, and it takes about 80,000 lives every year.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

I urge everyone who has come to the debate to go to a respiratory ward—I served on one for a year in my first junior doctor role—to watch people gasp for breath, struggle and fight, with their relatives asking you as a doctor to do something and you simply cannot. If the Bill is a step forward in stopping that situation, I am very much in favour of the Secretary of State taking it forward.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to the Chamber his professional experience and the real-life consequences for his patients. If I may, I will unpack some of the details behind that invaluable intervention. The premise behind the Bill is exactly as he says—to stop the start—because there is no safe level of smoking and no safe tobacco product. In fact, it is the only product that, if consumed as the manufacturer intends, will kill two thirds of its long-term users.

The Bill is not about demonising people who smoke or stopping them from buying tobacco if they can do so today. It will not affect current smokers’ rights or entitlements in any way. Indeed, we want to help them to quit. We are supporting them by almost doubling funding for local stop-smoking services. Instead, the Bill is looking to the future, to give the next generation the freedom to live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

How does the Secretary of State counter the Conservative argument that if we ban something, we massively increase criminality?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. I will genuinely come to that, because I know that that is a concern that colleagues have. I will develop my arguments, if I may, but I also remind him of my declaration of interest and, believe you me, I have no interest whatsoever in making life easier for smoking gangs. That is why as part of the package I will announce further funding and investment for law enforcement agencies both at the border and at local level.

Some have said that it is concerning that we are banning things. I totally understand the concerns of fellow Conservatives. We are not in the habit of banning things—we do not like that. We will bring these powers in only when we are convinced—following a no doubt robust debate, with the intellectual self-confidence that we have on the Government Benches—that there is no liberty in addiction. Nicotine robs people of their freedom to choose. The vast majority of smokers start when they are young. Three quarters say that if they could turn back the clock, they would not have started. That is why, through the Bill, we are creating a smoke-free generation that will guarantee that no one who is turning 15 or younger this year will ever be legally sold tobacco, saving them from the misery of repeated attempts to give up, making our economy more productive and building an NHS that delivers faster, simpler and fairer care. It is our responsibility—indeed, our duty—to protect the next generation. That is what the Bill will do.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The Secretary of State is right that we should protect the next generation. Labour proposed the smoke-free generation legislation in January 2023. We voted to crack down on marketing vapes to children in 2021, but the Tories blocked it. I welcome this Bill, but does it not show that where Labour leads, some Conservatives follow? Is she not concerned about the number of her colleagues, who we see lined up in the Chamber, who will vote against this legislation today?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

That is a brave submission from the hon. Lady, given the debate in the Chamber yesterday. I certainly will not take lectures from Labour on this legislation. We are bringing it forward because we have looked carefully at the evidence. What is more, we have tempered it so that existing adult smokers will not be affected. If the message from the Labour party is that it wants to ban smoking for adults completely, it should make that argument. We have tempered this carefully to ensure that it only deals with future generations.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I commend my right hon. Friend for her approach to young people smoking, her determination to deal with illegal tobacco and her crackdown on vaping, which is a menace to young people as these things are sold like an item of confectionery. Will she accept that in doing all those things, she needs to be open minded about how the Bill can be improved? The idea of a rolling age of consent, with the consequence that someone of 35 will be able to buy tobacco but someone of 34 will not and so on, is at best a curiosity and at worst an absurdity.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend and close Lincolnshire neighbour. He knows that on any piece of legislation I will always want to listen to and do business with colleagues. The principle behind this legislation is that these emerging generations will never take up smoking. That is the point.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I will just finish this point. We are bringing forward this legislation so that we stop the start from 2027. Future generations will not have that addiction to nicotine.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

Let me say from the outset that I completely support this Bill. In Newham, 22% of sales last year were to under-age children—higher than alcohol, knives, fireworks and so on—and a total of £135,000-worth of illicit tobacco products were seized in just six months. Will the Secretary of State ensure that councils get the resources they need to continue the vital work of keeping these products out of the hands of the young?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Yes, I can assure the hon. Lady, because the illicit trade is often the greatest in the most deprived areas of the country, and I am about to develop exactly how we will help law enforcement. I very much understand the concerns across the House about ensuring that the illicit trade does not flourish.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the latest statistics that say twice as many schoolchildren smoke cannabis as smoke tobacco? It is already illegal—for all of us, not just children—to smoke cannabis. If a ban really worked, how can she explain those statistics? How can she show that this ban to stop people who are currently 15 will be different from the anti-drugs legislation that we already have?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

To be clear, is my right hon. Friend suggesting that we repeal the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, under which cannabis is prohibited? Although I have no experience of it, I understand that the consumption of marijuana also involves the consumption of tobacco and cigarette papers. The point is that we are trying to move away from the idea that current youngsters will be able to buy their cigarettes legally in shops from the age of 18 in 2027, precisely because we want to ensure that they can lead longer, healthier lives. In a moment I will come to some of the myths that the tobacco industry has put around about the impact of introducing age restrictions on cigarettes, which will be interesting evidence for those who are concerned about that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

First of all, I commend the Secretary of State and the Government for bringing forward this legislation. I support it because I believe it is right, but I have been contacted by vaping groups. My right hon. Friend Gavin Robinson and I met some last week. They sent me a small comment, and I want to ask the Secretary of State a quick question about it, so that we move forward with consistency to try to achieve something.

Those groups referred to the impact assessment report by the Department of Health and Social Care, and said that it fails to consider potentially detrimental effects of restricting vape users and smokers looking to switch. I think we all try to be helpful and constructive in our comments in this Chamber, so being constructive, they requested a vape retailer and distributor licensing scheme in the Bill. The industry has developed a comprehensive framework for such a scheme, which is designed to deal effectively once and for all with underage and illicit vape sales—a situation that could get worse. Does the Secretary of State intend to develop a vape retailer and distributor licensing scheme?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am extremely grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. We understand the level of lobbying that has been undertaken by both the vaping industry and the tobacco industry. We know that the vaping industry has pushed that as one of its lines. In the current vapes market, when walking into a local shop or a newsagent the vape products can be seen on sale next to the till, often next to the sweets—the part of the shop that children will be very attracted to, if my experiences are anything to go by. The industry markets them in very cynical ways. We are saying that it is already unlawful to sell vapes to under-18s, but we want to take the powers in this legislation to consult on flavours, design and so on, to ensure that vapes are sold as they are intended—to help adult smokers to quit, because no child should ever vape.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am going to make a little progress, if I may, because I want to come to the age of sale.

On the point raised by my right hon. Friend Sir Jake Berry about the age of sale and the black market, tobacco industry representatives claim that there will be unintended consequences from raising the age of sale. They assert that the black market will boom. Before the smoking age was increased from 16 to 18, they sang from the same hymn sheet, but the facts showed otherwise. The number of illicit cigarettes consumed fell by 25%, and smoking rates for 16 and 17-year-olds dropped by almost a third. Consumption of illegal tobacco plummeted from 17 billion cigarettes in 2000-01 to 3 billion cigarettes in 2022-23. That is despite the further controls that this House has put in place in the meantime. Our modelling suggests that the measures in this Bill will reduce smoking rates among 14 to 30-year-olds in England to close to zero as soon as 2040. I hope that many of us in the Chamber today will still be here in 2040. This is our opportunity to play that part in history.

Thanks to constructive engagement with colleagues across the devolved Administrations, the measures will apply not just in England but across our entire United Kingdom, saving lives and building a brighter future. Having listened carefully to colleagues’ concerns about enforcement, we are making sure that local authorities will be able to keep every penny of the fixed penalties they bring in to reinvest in rigorous enforcement. In other words, we are looking not just at national enforcement, but at helping our very important and valuable local trading enforcement officers to keep the proceeds from the fixed penalties they hand out.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, largely, the Bill will not affect people in this House but younger people, and that it is therefore incredibly important to listen to their voices on this issue? With that in mind, I wrote to every secondary school in my constituency to ask young people their views. The majority of young people in Chelmsford, when asked for their views, said they would support the measures in the Bill. It was not unanimous, but we work by majority. Given that it affects them and not me, I will be respecting their views when I vote today.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my right hon. Friend. Yet again, she reminds us what a brilliant local constituency MP she is. She has drawn out the voice of young people. When I pose questions about our NHS and the future I want to build for it—reforming it to make it faster, simpler and fairer—one thing I think about is the voice of younger people. If they are in work paying their taxes, they are paying for our NHS at this moment and they will be the users of it in the future. Part of my role as Health Secretary is to ensure that it has a sustainable funding model, that we are doing everything we can to increase productivity, and that we move the demand curve so that it celebrates its next 75 years.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. She knows that I take a particular interest in the impact of retail crime. The British Retail Consortium indicates that there are about 1,300 acts of violence against shopkeepers across the UK daily. It has been suggested that one of the biggest triggers of attacks on shopkeepers is asking for proof of age. What additional resources can be put in to assist retailers and ensure they are protected from attacks?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Gentleman raises a very fair point. Interestingly, the latest survey of retailers shows—I think I am right in saying it—that the majority of retailers support this policy, but he knows just how carefully the Government have listened to the concerns of retailers. My hon. Friend Matt Vickers has led a relentless campaign on this issue, and I was really pleased that the Home Secretary was able to announce in recent weeks a specific crime relating to violence against retail workers.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I smoked until 30 years ago and it was a very hard business to stop the evil weed. I come from a completely different era and I am considered something of a dinosaur. [Hon. Members: “Never!”] But I do still hope to be here in 2040. I wish to God that vapes had been around when I was going through the process of stopping smoking. Do we not need to be very careful that the Bill does not throw the baby out with the bathwater and stop helping people come off the evil weed?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

First of all, I completely reject my hon. Friend’s suggestion that he is a dinosaur. He brings a great energy and effervescence into the Chamber—or indeed any social situation. He articulates really well the struggle of addiction to nicotine and how tough it can be to give up. That is not a judgment on anyone; the substance is designed to addict. That is how the sales pitch is made. What we are trying to do is stop children being ensnared in that way. He is also right that at the moment the evidence suggests that vaping is a good way to help existing smokers to quit. If you do not smoke, please do not vape. Certainly, children should never vape. What we have tried to do with the Bill is build a balance in, so we are taking powers to look at packaging, flavours and so on. There will be a thorough consultation before any regulations are set, because we want to ensure that we are helping adults to quit, but in a way that is considered and well designed. I am extremely grateful to him for raising that point.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I am listening very carefully to what my right hon. Friend is saying. She outlined how the consumption of cigarettes has collapsed over the last couple of decades, and my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford talked about how the young people she reached out to do not want to smoke any more. Is that not the heart of the matter? That is why I think the Bill is fundamentally wrong and misguided. Young people are not smoking. It is not cool to smoke. The Bill should be focused more on the vape side of things: illegal vapes, supercharged vapes, the colour and flavour of vapes. We are debating cigarettes, which are naturally going out of existence anyway, rather than focusing on the dangerous vapes that are addictive for young children. That is where the Government should put their focus, rather than wasting time talking about something that is dying out anyway.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Sadly—I say this genuinely—there is nothing inevitable about a decrease in smoking rates. Indeed, in 2020 the United States saw the first increase in tobacco sales in 20 years, and in Australia in 2022 the proportion of teenagers smoking increased for the first time in 25 years. I am reminded by a Minister that here in the United Kingdom 100,000 children and young people take up smoking every year. We must not be lulled into a sense of inevitability and security, mindful as I am of how very clever the tobacco industry is at lobbying its messages because we are threatening its business model. As Conservatives, we must take into account that this is happening today, so we must ensure we tackle it head on.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. She is making a very important point about young people and children smoking today. It is not just about cigarettes. Shisha smoking, in particular in Westminster, Marylebone and Edgware Road in my constituency, has become very fashionable for young people. An hour of smoking shisha equates to 100 to 200 cigarettes within an hour. Will she confirm that shisha tobacco will be included in the Bill?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the City of Westminster right into the Chamber. There are, in fact, five times more people in England today smoking non-cigarette tobacco, which includes cigars and shisha, than there were a decade ago. Worryingly, the greatest increase is in young adults. That is why we have said that tobacco in all its forms is a harmful product, and that we therefore wish to ensure we are consistent in the policy and the messaging that this is about helping young people to stop the start.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am going to make some progress and then I will give way.

As I have said, the tobacco industry questions the necessity of the Bill on the grounds that smoking rates are already falling. It is absolutely correct that smoking rates are down, but as I said, there is nothing inevitable about that. Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death, disability and ill health. In England alone, creating a smoke-free generation could prevent almost half a million cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other deadly diseases by the turn of the century, increasing thousands of people’s quality of life and reducing pressure on our NHS. An independent review has found that if we stand by and do nothing, nearly half a million more people will die from smoking by the end of this decade. We must therefore ask what place this addiction has in our society, and we are not the only ones to ask that question of ourselves. We know that our policy of creating a smoke-free generation is supported by the majority of retailers, and by about 70% of the public.

The economic case for creating a smoke-free generation is also profound. Each year smoking costs our economy a minimum of £17 billion, which is far more than the £10 billion of tax revenue that it attracts. It costs the average smoker £2,500 a year—money that those people could spend on other goods and services or put towards buying a new car or home. It costs our entire economy by stalling productivity and driving economic inactivity, to the extent that the damage caused by smoking accounts for almost 7p in every £1 of income tax we pay. As Conservatives we are committed to reducing the tax burden on hard-working people and improving the productivity of the state, which is why this Government have cut the double taxation on work not once but twice, giving our hard-working constituents a £900 average tax cut. That is a moral and principled approach.

Having celebrated the first 75 years of the NHS last year, I am determined to reform it to make it faster, simpler and fairer for the next 75 years, and part of that productivity work involves recognising that we must reduce the single most preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the UK. This reform will benefit not just our children but anyone who may be affected by passive smoking, and, indeed, future taxpayers whose hard-earned income helps to fund our health service. Today we are taking a historic step in that direction. Creating a smoke-free generation could deliver productivity gains of £16 billion by 2056. It will prevent illness and promote good health, help people to get into work and drive economic growth, all the while reducing pressure on the NHS.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Of course, the tax burden is the highest it has been for some considerable time. I welcome the Bill, but the Khan review estimated that the Government’s smoke-free ambition would not be fulfilled in poorer communities until 2044, and there are many such communities in my constituency, so how will the Bill tackle that issue? Will it really be another 20 years before we see a result in poorer communities?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

No, because, as I have said, the modelling suggests that among the younger generation smoking levels will be close to zero by 2040. As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about tax, I do not remember him voting against the Government’s furlough scheme and other support during covid; nor do I remember him complaining that we were trying to help people with the cost of living. We as Conservatives understand that this is sound money, rather than the magic money tree that will somehow fund Labour’s £28 billion black hole.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

I am somewhat perplexed by this debate, and indeed by the Bill. I do not consider it to be enforceable, and I also think it fails to take into account the effective tax measures and health campaigns that have been run by successive Governments to reduce the number of smokers. Nor does it respond to the fact that, in the long run, bad and poor diets are likely to kill more people than smoking. According to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, more people are dying from malnutrition than from smoking. There is a principle at stake here: should the Government step in and deal with people who are eating unhealthy food?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am, of course, responsible for healthcare in England, so I will not trespass on the health needs of people in—as I think my hon. Friend said—Montreal. As for the Bill, it is intended to help children and young people to end their addiction to nicotine, which we know is one of the most addictive substances. As I said earlier, we should not assume that decreases in smoking rates such as those we have seen are inevitable; indeed, I have cited countries in which we have seen an increase. We also know that tobacco is being consumed in ways that are different from the ways in which it was consumed, say, 20 years ago. My hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, for instance, mentioned the rise of non-cigarette tobacco smoking. We are trying to address that, for the health of the individual as well as the wider health of society.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I have already taken an intervention from Ian Paisley. I will take one more, from Rachael Maskell, and then I will make some progress—although I will give way to my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson in a moment.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

The Secretary of State has talked about addiction to nicotine. If, as she has suggested, vaping is a pathway to stopping smoking, why does she not envisage a vape-free generation arriving in parallel with a smoke-free generation, so that we can have a nicotine-free generation across the board? Why does she not expand her legislation to ensure that young people take up neither smoking nor vaping?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The House has already legislated to ensure that vapes cannot be sold to people under 18. However, as we are seeing in our local shops, the vaping industry is finding ways of marketing its products that seem designed for younger minds and younger preferences. Once the Bill has been passed, that age limit will be maintained for vaping but, importantly, from January 2027 onwards we will not see the sale of legal cigarettes or tobacco to those aged 18 or less.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

No; I want to make some progress. I want to say something about the measures on vaping because, as Members have already demonstrated today, there is a great deal of interest in the subject.

As any parent or teacher will know, there has been a dramatic and dangerous increase in youth vaping. At least one in five children have tried it. Many will say that the solution is simply to enforce the law, and of course that is a vital component, which is why we are investing £30 million in our enforcement agencies and hitting cynical businesses that sell vapes to children with on-the-spot fines. However, we must and will go further, because vaping damages our children’s future. It could damage their lungs while they are still developing, intensify the long-term pressure on the NHS, and damage their concentration at school—a point that many teachers have made.

We cannot replace one generation addicted to nicotine with another, and vapes are cynically marketed towards our children. They are sold at pocket-money prices, they share shelf space with sweets, they are branded with cartoon characters, and they are given flavours such as cotton candy and watermelon ice. Our children are being exploited, and we cannot and will not let that continue. The Bill will give us powers to crack down on child-friendly flavours and packaging and to change the way in which vapes are displayed in shops—measures on which we will consult.

Through separate environmental legislation we are banning the disposable vapes that young people favour and that do so much harm to our planet. Some 5 million are thrown away, either in bins or on our streets, every single week. That is equivalent to some 5,000 lithium car batteries from electric vehicles being thrown away every year. We have a responsibility to tackle the harm to our planet that is perpetrated by the vaping industry. While vapes can be helpful in assisting adult smokers to quit, our message remains clear: if you do not smoke, do not vape, and children should never vape.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; she is being very generous. The Bill gives her wide-ranging powers in relation to the flavours of vape liquid, packaging and so on, but does not oblige her to consult widely or look at impact statements. In fact, the word “consultation” does not appear anywhere in the Bill. Will she give the House a commitment that she will consult fully before exercising any powers given to her by the Bill?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that. I give a commitment here at the Dispatch Box that we will consult. We are very conscious of the complexities of this issue. We want to get it right, and my hon. Friend has my absolute undertaking that we will consult before regulations are brought before the House.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

If the hon. Gentleman wants to dive in before I conclude, I will let him do so.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

That is kind of the Secretary of State. I appreciate her taking these interventions.

Given that this a flagship policy for the Government, will the Secretary of State give me a guarantee from the Dispatch Box that the Bill will apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom? I have raised a number of concerns about the fact that because we have a land border with the European Union, the EU will insist, under the Windsor framework, that it can block the implementation of the Bill in Northern Ireland, as it did with the Danish Government when they tried to introduce a similar measure. Can I have a guarantee that if the Bill will apply from 2027 in the United Kingdom, it will apply in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising a really important point. May I, through him, thank the new Northern Irish Health Minister, who has been very collaborative in bringing forward what needs to be brought forward as quickly as possible, given the historical context, so that we can have the Bill aligned across the United Kingdom? Our intention is absolutely as the hon. Gentleman describes: it applies throughout the United Kingdom. Of course, if he or his colleague in Belfast have concerns that there may be ways in which it could somehow be circumnavigated, we will listen carefully, but I should be clear that our intention is that the Bill applies to all children and young people across the United Kingdom, because we want to protect children living in Northern Ireland just as much as those in England, Wales and Scotland.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

On the Secretary of State’s point about tackling illicit tobacco, I raised that question with the then Prime Minister in 2016, because in Medway we had one of the highest rates of illicit tobacco sales. The maximum sentence that can be given for the supply and sale of illicit tobacco is seven years. As part of the strategy to deal with illicit tobacco, will the Government look to increase sentences for its sale and supply? The Secretary of State is right to say that the Conservative party is committed to lower taxation, but tax avoidance and evasion costs this country £2 billion. If we do not get things right with regard to the banning of cigarettes, which I do not agree with—I think we should do it through education and awareness—we will get more people buying illicit tobacco. That cannot be right.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend gives me the ideal opportunity to talk about my favourite criminal offence: cheating the public revenue, which is a criminal offence with very settled law. It has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and I have deployed it myself against the organised crime gangs to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. A sensible prosecutor will always look at that criminal offence, because it is settled law and good law, and it has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for those who indulge in it.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am going to conclude. In fairness, I have been generous with my time.

We want to build a brighter future for our children and grandchildren, which means moving from the tossing sea of cause and theory to the firm ground of result and fact. The result of this legislation will be to free future generations from the tyranny of addiction and ill health. The facts include that parents worry about youth vaping and want us to take on the tobacco and vaping industries. The result and facts of this change will save hundreds of thousands of lives, reduce pressure on our NHS and increase millions of young people’s chances in life. The decisions we make today will stand the test of time. For those many reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

I will try not to impose a strict time limit. If I were wishing to speak, I would start to think about taking seven minutes for my contribution. That does not apply to the shadow Secretary of State.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 2:14, 16 April 2024

Until the early 2000s, every pub you walked into was filled with smoke. One in every four people in this country was a smoker. The last Labour Government banned smoking in public places, which had an enormous impact on the health of our nation. The following year, there were 1,200 fewer hospital admissions for heart attacks, according to the British Medical Journal. Since 2007, the number of people who smoke has been cut by almost a third. Our understanding of second-hand smoke grew, and there was a cultural change around where it was acceptable to smoke. Even at home, people went outside to smoke, instead of smoking in front of their children.

A study in Scotland found that whereas hospital admissions for children with asthma were increasing by 5% a year before the smoking ban, admissions were down by 18% in the three years following Labour’s legislation. In short, Labour helped to build a healthier society: smoking was down, the number of patients needing treatment was down, NHS beds were freed up and lives were saved. But there is more to do. During the 13 years when Labour was last in office, life expectancy was extended by three and a half years, but in the 14 years that the Conservatives have been in office, it has grown by just four months. For men, it is beginning to decline. We are falling into ill health earlier in life today than we were a decade ago, which is a shameful indication of our country’s decline.

What more motivation could this House need for once again taking seriously the health of our nation? Today, smoking remains a scourge on our society. Some 75,000 GP appointments every month are to deal with the impacts of smoking. The cost to our economy, after taxes, is £10 billion. Around 80,000 of our friends, neighbours and colleagues lose their lives to smoking every year. It is a lethal addiction, a scourge on society, an enormous burden on our NHS and a drag on our economy, and it is time to consign it to the dustbins of history. Let us act today so that the next generation of young people can live healthier, happier and longer lives than the generations before them.

Labour will give our wholehearted support to this Bill. In fact, we needed no persuasion. In an interview with The Times in January last year, I said that it was time for a New Zealand-style smoking ban. I argued that a progressive ban would have a transformational impact on the health of individuals, the health of the nation as a whole and the public finances.

After around two and a half years in this job, I am getting used to the Government nicking Labour’s policies. In the last year alone, the magpies opposite have swooped in on Labour’s NHS workforce plan, Labour’s plan to recruit dentists in the most under-served areas, Labour’s plan for a windfall tax on oil and gas giants, and Labour’s plan to abolish the non-dom tax status. Even so, I was shocked when I saw that the Conservative party—the party of Ken Clarke—is nicking the Labour party’s plan for a progressive ban on tobacco. Of all the policies that the Conservatives have adopted from the Labour party in the past few years, nothing shows our dominance in the battle of ideas more than this latest capitulation.

Where Labour leads, the Conservatives follow. Indeed, when I first floated this proposal, Conservative MPs called it “nanny state” and

“an attack on ordinary people and their culture”,

and I was accused of “health fascism”. What irony, when Conservative MPs are overseas today in Brussels, lining up with the European far right. Anyway, it is water off a duck’s back to me. I am delighted that just a few months later the Prime Minister announced this policy at the Conservative party conference, and that a Conservative Health Secretary has brought this progressive ban before Parliament today.

However, it seems that not every Conservative Member got the memo. It has been widely reported, and we have seen indications of it today, that there are still Members on the Conservative Benches—as many as 100, if we believe rebel Tory briefings to the media, although in our experience these Tory rebellions tend to evaporate when the moment comes—who resist the new interventionist consensus, who continue to fly the flag for small-state libertarianism, and who believe that the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister have surrendered to the lobbying of big health and those tyrants in Action on Smoking and Health, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Mind, Asthma and Lung UK, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Medical Association. Well, we happily align ourselves with big health in defence of the nation and we are only too happy to defend the Health Secretary against the siren voices of big tobacco that we see gathered around our former Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss, in the corner of the Chamber today.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

On the issue of unity, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the comment made by his colleague Rachael Maskell that if we bring in a progressive ban on cigarettes, we should mirror it with a similar ban on vaping? If he becomes Health Secretary, will that become the policy that he will promote?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend the Member for York Central made the really good point—a point that needs to be well understood in the context of this debate—that vaping is undoubtedly, unquestionably a useful smoking cessation tool, but we should not send the message to the country that vaping is good for our health or that it is without harmful consequences. When it comes to banning things, it should be on the basis of evidence and there should not be a predisposition to ban. I have not yet seen evidence to persuade me that vaping is harmful enough to introduce a ban of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central. I hope I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, when the general election eventually comes, the Labour party will not go around trying to ban things left, right and centre, but I certainly want to consign to the history books the 244,000 people on NHS waiting lists in his area as a direct result of the policies of the Government whom he supports and has served.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I will happily give way. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to take the opportunity to apologise to his constituents in Rossendale and Darwen for his abysmal record in government.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I will resist the hon. Gentleman’s offer. He has just said that vaping should only ever be used to help people to stop smoking cigarettes. If this Bill passes, it will be illegal for people who are now aged 15 ever to smoke cigarettes, so there will be no requirement in his world for them ever to vape. So I repeat the question, which he has refused to answer: will the Labour party bring forward—this is supported by his own party—a ban on vapes to mirror the tobacco ban? Yes or no?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The record will show that I answered the right hon. Gentleman’s question. I talked about banning things and taking away people’s choice, and there are plenty of things that we do on a daily basis that might be harmful to our health in some way. Indeed, participating in most physical contact sports carries a risk of injury, but we are not going to ban football, rugby or boxing. I refer him to my previous answer, which is that I have not seen evidence to persuade me to ban vaping in the way that this Government are proposing to phase out smoking. I have answered that question already and I answer it again now, but I am sure that it will not be lost on the people of Rossendale and Darwen that he did not take the opportunity to apologise to the 244,000 people in his area who are stuck on record long waiting lists.

Once again, the Prime Minister has shown that he is too weak to stand up to his party. The psychodrama in the Conservative party is being put before the interests of the country. In the press today, the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch is the latest to let it be known that she will be opposing this Bill. Journalists were helpfully pointed towards comments about her belief in the limits of the state made during her last leadership campaign. I say “her last leadership campaign”, but I am sure that it will not be her last leadership campaign. Indeed, I do not think it has ever stopped. Anyway, that is what she said. In fact, she bemoaned Governments who try to “solve every problem”. Well, if she has a problem with Governments solving problems, she must be delighted with the record of this Government, who can barely solve any problems. They cannot even solve the chaos in their own party.

The Business Secretary is not the only one who is desperate to tell Conservative party members that they oppose this Bill. The former Prime Minister joins us today. The right hon. Member for South West Norfolk and recently declared candidate to be the next leader of the Conservative party, has said that the Bill is “profoundly unconservative”. A stopped clock is right twice a day, and I find myself agreeing with the former Prime Minister. This is absolutely an un-Conservative Bill. It is a Labour Bill, and we are delighted to see the Government bring it forward. [Interruption.] Yes, even this stopped clock is right twice a day for the Trussites in the corner. The right hon. Lady is in fine company when it comes to former Prime Ministers. Boris Johnson has said that this proposal is

“absolutely nuts…It’s just mad”.

Well, now he knows how the rest of us felt when he was Prime Minister.

Suella Braverman could not be with us today because she is currently in Brussels surrounded by the police who are trying to shut down the event she is attending with some far right fanatics, with whom she has much in common. A source close to the right hon. and learned Lady has said that she is “not a fan” of the Bill. Well, now she knows how the rest of us feel about her, too.

Some dark horses have also spied an opportunity to play to the gallery. It seems that even my former bête noire, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Barclay, fancies his chances in the ongoing battle for the Conservative leadership, because he too has come out against this Bill. To be fair, he has a strong case for the leadership of the Conservative party. As Health Secretary, he had to face a workforce in constant dispute with him, which is good practice for dealing with the party, and he has to deal with a steady stream of toxic sewage in his current job, so who could be more experienced in coping with the travails of the modern Conservative party than the right hon. Gentleman?

I want to praise the one member of this Government who has consistently made the case for the Government’s Bill. No, of course I am not talking about the Prime Minister. Since his party conference speech in October he has shrunk away from the debate, once again too weak to stand up to his own party, and instead left it to others to make the case for him. To her credit, the Health Secretary has cast aside any leadership ambition she may have once held and come out in full-throated defence of Labour’s policy. So let me assure my comrade opposite that we will stand with her today in the voting Lobby, even as the forces of conservatism stand against her.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

Going back to the subject of what we are trying to debate rather than playing a political game, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to pick up a sheet and throw some figures at me, because this is a serious question. When my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson asked a question about a consultation on vaping, those on the Opposition Front Bench shook their heads at the idea. Can I ask why? As a former smoker myself, I have moved to vaping in order to quit smoking, and I genuinely think that this issue needs to be considered. I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question: why does the Labour party think a consultation should not go ahead?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. It falls to me to defend the Government against their own Members, but to be fair to this Government, they have consulted on measures to clamp down on inappropriate vaping. They have consulted, and we have been urging them to go faster in cracking down on the sale of vapes to under-age people in this country—a generation of young people who have become addicted to nicotine. I will talk about that further on in my speech.

The Government have consulted and the Bill will go through the legislative process. We will no doubt have a rigorous debate today and in the Bill Committee. It will then report to this House and then go to the House of Lords, where it will be continue to be scrutinised, and it is unacceptable that there are still people who would tie the Health Secretary’s hands behind her back and slow her down when urgent action is needed to clamp down on the people who are selling nicotine to children. Those people are addicting children to nicotine. I do not understand why on earth the Trussites in the corner are trying to tie the hands of their own Health Secretary when she is trying to do the right thing by young people.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

The hon. Member is putting me on the wrong side of this argument as a former smoker, so I would appreciate it if he had a little bit more respect. What I am trying to ask is this: why does he not agree that people who are using vaping as a substitute for smoking should be consulted on what they believe should happen through this Bill?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I do not know whether there is a problem with the speaker system in here, because this is the second time I have had an intervention after answering the question. I have already said that the Government have consulted on measures to clamp down, and I am absolutely not against the Government talking to people who, like the hon. Lady, have used vaping as a smoking cessation tool. In fact, I fully support the point she is making, which is that vaping can be a really effective tool to help smokers to quit smoking. I am in favour of that; that is good for health. If the Government want to talk to and engage with people who vape as part of the passage of this Bill, that is absolutely fine. What I am not in favour of is tying the Secretary of State’s hands when she wants to do more, and more quickly, to prevent children becoming addicted to nicotine.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Just to be clear, we will consult on this. It is a simple question that requires a simple answer: will Labour consult further?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Mr Deputy Speaker, we are now in this parallel universe where the Secretary of State is asking me, the shadow Secretary of State, whether I am going to consult on her Bill. Now, I am willing to help her out, but if she wants me to sit on that side of the Chamber and run the Department of Health and Social Care, I am ready and willing, but we need a general election to do that. I do not understand—this is just extraordinary. I feel like I am living in a parallel universe this afternoon. It was bad enough when the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk, walked in with her book and her fan club, and now we have the absurd spectacle of the Secretary of State asking me whether I will run the consultation on her Bill. This is extraordinary. I will allow her to correct the record and save her blushes.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Gentleman is not listening. He has been asked repeatedly whether he supports the concept of a consultation on vaping in order to ensure that these regulations are drawn up properly. He is not listening. He refuses to answer the question. We on this side of the House are clear: we want to get this right and we will consult. I am simply asking whether he will answer the questions that he has been asked.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Honestly, Mr Deputy Speaker, you just can’t help some people. I am trying to help the Secretary of State out and defend her against her own side, and now, to curry favour with them, she has turned on me. Now I know what it is like being in the Conservative party. This is like a 1922 committee meeting—absolutely absurd.

For the final time, let me just explain the situation we find ourselves in today. The Secretary of State is currently in government. This is her Bill. She is taking it through Parliament. She is perfectly able to run a consultation. I will support her in running a consultation, if that is the support she needs. [Interruption.] I am so pleased. If only I had known it was that easy. If all she needed was a bit of moral support from me to run the consultation, then you go, comrade—don’t you worry; I have got your back, and it is absolutely fine.

I am trying to be helpful to the Secretary of State this afternoon, but I just have to say to her that I am not sure that the best way to persuade her colleagues was to invoke the great cigar chomper, Winston Churchill. Some have estimated that Churchill went through 160,000 cigars in his time. Indeed, on one occasion, at a lunch with the then King of Saudi Arabia, Churchill was told that no smoking or drinking would be permitted in the royal presence. He responded:

“If it was the religion of His Majesty to deprive himself of smoking and alcohol, I must point out that my rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and, if need be, during all meals and in the intervals between them.”

I appreciate the Health Secretary’s efforts, but I fear that Lord Soames was probably on to something when he said that his grandfather certainly would not have approved of this Bill.

Just before any Conservative Members decide to wage yet another culture war and accuse me of talking down one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, I would just add to the historical record that it was thanks to the Labour party that it was Winston Churchill, not Lord Halifax, who became the leader of our country at a crucial time, and thank goodness that he did. Nevertheless, I do commend the Secretary of State on a good effort—she was close, but no cigar. Anyway, let us go back to the economic arguments of the Bill.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I want to go back to the point about consultation. I think that the hon. Gentleman has agreed that, for people who smoke cigarettes, moving on to vapes can be helpful. What he may not know is that people who have moved on to those vapes tell us that, if they are unflavoured and just taste of nicotine, they taste revolting. That is why many vapes are flavoured. That is why my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe may be so concerned about making sure that people’s views are listened to before flavours are removed from the market.

It appears to me that the hon. Gentleman did not get that point, because he was refusing to believe that any such consultation was important. Therefore, out of respect to the people who use these products to stop smoking, can he confirm again that if he is in government at the time, soon after this Bill is passed, he will consult people and listen to their views before banning the products they use?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her intervention. I think she makes a perfectly sensible point, actually, and I am perfectly open to lobbying from Conservative Members on how a Labour Government will behave after the general election—she seems to think it is a foregone conclusion, but I certainly do not; we will be working hard for every vote. I can reassure her that our concern has been about children becoming addicted to nicotine. In relation to adult use of vapes as a tool for stopping smoking, I think she makes an absolutely reasonable point about flavourless vaping, and of course she is right that we need to ensure that we get the regulation right on that so that we do not unwittingly deter people from stopping smoking. However, as I will come on to talk about when I come to the vaping section of the Bill, there is no excuse whatsoever for the kinds of flavourings and marketing of vapes that we have seen, which I believe have been deliberately and wilfully designed to addict young people to what is, let us not forget, a harmful substance. I make that very clear.

Anyway, back to the Bill—someone has to defend it, and I get the sense that there are not going to be too many on the Government side, so I will have a go at doing what the Prime Minister is too weak to do and take on the arguments of his own party. They say that the progressive ban on smoking is unconservative. Let me tell them what is unconservative: the heaviest tax burden in 70 years, and it will get heavier if we do not act to prevent ill health.

If we continue down the road that the Conservatives have put us on, with more and more people suffering, falling sick and falling out of the workforce, we will not just be letting those people down; we will all be paying a heavy price for it too. The costs of sickness and disability benefits are due to rise on the Government’s watch, from £65 billion this year to over £90 billion by the end of the next Parliament.

The budget for the NHS is £165 billion this year, and the health service is not coping with existing demands. If society continues to get less healthy, those demands will only rise. If the health service and our welfare service are to be made sustainable for the future, then we must act to prevent ill health in the first place. What better way to do that than by wiping out the leading cause of cancer? It is not just our public finances that are held back by ill health; so too is our economy.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s argument to its logical conclusion. He talks about substances that are bad—addictive and harmful to people’s health—and have a huge impact on the NHS through those costs, but there are so many more things that are in fact worse for health. Sugar and salt are highly addictive. Does this mean that Labour’s plan is to ban foods with high levels of salt or sugar? Logically, that is the next step, and therefore, if we need to protect the NHS and cut costs, we should be banning anything that is slightly bad for us, rather than actually taking a better enjoyment of life and saying, “A little bit of what you fancy every now and again is okay, and good for your mental health.”

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I think that is extraordinary. I do not think that smoking is slightly harmful; I think it is the single biggest cause of cancer, and I think that the costs to people’s health, to our national health service and to our economy are enormous. This sort of argument—that if we ban smoking for young people, we have to ban everything else—is absurd. I think that the Secretary of State just pointed out the absurdity of it when she pointed to a whole range of harmful things in our country that are already banned.

Let me put the question back to the libertarian wing in the corner of the Chamber. Will the new modern Conservative party not ban anything? Will we have a libertarian dystopia in which people are free to do whatever they want in the name of liberty? [Interruption.] I am just trying to help the Secretary of State by taking on the libertarians in the corner. I would be very sad if she wants me to give in to them but, with 187,000 people on the waiting list in the local area of Alexander Stafford, I think we should do something about it.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

I proudly call myself a libertarian, because I believe in the fundamental value of freedom of decision making. On what we should and should not ban, I would argue there is a very substantial difference between banning class A and class B drugs, which do immense harm in all our communities, and banning tobacco. We already struggle to stop the former, so why on earth would we try to create and police a huge black market in the latter?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I admire the right hon. Gentleman for sticking to his convictions as a libertarian in making that case, even though I strongly disagree with him, but how far does his commitment to libertarianism go? He is defending the right of our country’s children to become addicted to nicotine for the rest of their life, which is an extraordinary argument. There are 356,000 people in his local area on NHS waiting lists. Does he want a future where that gets worse and the disease burden and cost pressures rise? When he was in government, the low-tax Conservatives crashed our economy and sent people’s mortgages through the roof, and rents, bills and the tax burden rose. That is their record. I wish he would do more to stand up for his low-tax convictions than his libertarian desire that children growing up in our country today should become addicted to nicotine. I have to respectfully disagree with him.

Compared with three years ago, half a million more people are out of work due to long-term sickness. People’s careers are being ruined by illnesses that prevent them from contributing to Britain’s economic success. We cannot build a healthy economy without a healthy society. Not only is there a moral argument for backing this progressive ban, based on the countless lives ruined by smoking and our shared determination to make sure that children growing up in Britain today will not die as a result of smoking, but there is an economic argument, too.

It is certainly true that vaping is less harmful than smoking and is a useful smoking cessation tool, but vapes are harmful products none the less. In the past few years, entirely on the Conservatives’ watch, a new generation of children have become hooked on nicotine. An estimated quarter of a million children vape today, and there is no doubt that this is the result of vaping companies’ decision to target children. On any high street in the country today, people can buy brightly coloured vapes and e-liquids with names such as “Vimto Breeze” and “Mango Ice”. They are designed, packaged, marketed and deliberately sold to children. The effect of this new nicotine addiction on our country’s young people should trouble us all.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

A couple of years back, Newham did a survey and discovered that 4% of year 6 children—that is 10 and 11-year-olds—had already vaped. I met Community Links in Canning Town in January, and it has been working on projects to tackle misinformation. Its students explained to me that they and their friends have been encouraged to believe that vaping is somehow safe and will not cause them the same problems with nicotine. Surely we can all agree that the voices of young people need to be heard and that they need to be encouraged and assisted to tackle the misinformation about vaping that is clearly out there.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I am very familiar with Community Links, which does brilliant work. We should take the voices of children and young people seriously—Vicky Ford made that point earlier.

Teachers monitor school toilets where children congregate to vape. Kids are making up excuses to leave their classroom in order to satisfy their nicotine cravings, and children in primary school, aged 9 or younger, have ended up in hospital because of the impact of vaping. Paediatric chest physicians report that children are being put in intensive care units for conditions such as lung bleeding, lung collapse and lungs filling up with fat. One girl who started vaping at school told the BBC that she has

“no control over it…I start to get shaky and it’s almost all I can think of.”

The question that must be asked of Conservative Members should not be whether they will take action today, but what has taken them so long. In 2021, Labour supported an amendment to the Health and Care Act 2022 to ban the branding and marketing of vapes to appeal to children—Conservative MPs voted it down. In 2023, my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne led a debate on an Opposition day motion on the same proposed ban—once again, Conservative MPs failed to support it. Thanks to their delay in acting against this, and thanks to their awful, shocking complacency, thousands more children have taken up vaping and become addicted to nicotine. Can the Health Secretary tell the House whether the Government’s delay in acting against youth vaping had anything to do with the £350,000 donation her party received from the boss of a major vaping company that sells vapes with flavours such as “Blue Razz Lemonade” and “Strawberry Mousse”?

We are an ageing society facing rising chronic disease. We are approaching these challenges with an NHS already in the worst crisis in its history, with the longest waiting lists and lowest patient satisfaction on record, 121,000 staff vacancies across the health service and 14,000 fewer hospital beds than in 2010. If we do not act today to ease the pressures coming down the track, they threaten to overwhelm and even bankrupt the health service.

Prevention is better than cure. This progressive ban must be the beginning of a decade in which we shift the focus of healthcare in this country from sickness to prevention, which is mission critical to making sure the NHS can be there for us in the next 75 years, just as it has been there for us in the past 75 years.

If the Government are serious about taking on this challenge, Labour has many more plans that they can adopt before they finally call the general election. They could adopt our children’s health plan to give every child a healthy start to life. They could ban junk food ads aimed at kids so that children are not targeted by unhealthy food. They could tackle the mental health crisis facing young people, with support in every school, hubs in every community, and 8,500 more mental health professionals to cut the disgracefully long waiting times for treatment.

They could treat the 152,000 children who have been on NHS waiting lists for more than 18 weeks, ending long waits for children for good. We will do it by providing 2 million more operations, and by providing evening and weekend appointments to beat the Tory backlog. We will have supervised toothbrushing in schools to tackle the moral emergency of children needing to have their rotting teeth pulled out, which is the No. 1 reason why children aged six to 10 end up in hospital. We will have breakfast clubs in every primary school so that kids start the day with hungry minds, not hungry bellies. We will digitise the red book, making sure that all kids are up to date on their checks and vaccines. And we will once again put an end to measles in this country, after it has been allowed to return on the Government’s watch.

We want the next generation to be chasing their dreams, not a dentist appointment. They should aspire to reach their potential, not to reach a doctor. Labour’s plan is to make sure that today’s children are part of the healthiest generation that has ever lived, and this ban is just the start.

The Prime Minister may be too weak to whip his MPs to vote for this important Bill, but Labour will put country first and party second. We will resist the temptation to play games on votes. Instead, we will go through the Lobby to make sure this legislation is passed so that today’s young people are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Conservative.

I commend this Bill to the House.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. I remind everyone that there is a lot of interest in this debate, particularly among Government Members, so I ask speakers not to stray too much beyond seven minutes. I call Liz Truss.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk 2:49, 16 April 2024

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am not speaking in this debate because I love smoking, although I have voted against every single smoking prohibition since I have been a Member of Parliament. I am speaking today because I am very concerned that the policy that has been put forward is emblematic of a technocratic establishment in this county that wants to limit people’s freedom. That is a problem.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

I will not give way to the hon. Lady—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] I will not give way. I will give exactly as much opportunity as the Opposition gave me to talk about my private Member’s Bill, which I shall come on to later.

The problem is that the instinct of this establishment, which is reflected in cross-party consensus in the Chamber, is to believe that it—that the Government—is better at making decisions for people than people themselves. I absolutely agree that that is true for the under-18s. It is very important that we protect people while they are growing up until they have decision-making capability. However, I think the whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic and effectively infantilises people. That is what has been going on. We are seeing, not just on tobacco but on sugar, alcohol and meat, a group of people who want to push an agenda which is about limiting personal freedom. I think that that is fundamentally wrong.

I go out canvassing a lot in my Norfolk constituency. People raise all kinds of issues with me on the doorstep. They are concerned about immigration. They are concerned about the cost of energy. They are concerned about the rise of China. They want to support Ukraine. Not a single voter has ever said to me, “My big concern is adults smoking.” This proposal has not come from people—our constituents—talking to us. It has come from a group of people who, by and large, work in a professional capacity pushing these policies. When my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey was Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, this proposal was sitting on her desk, so it is not new. I am pleased to say that she put it in the bin, but unfortunately since then it seems to have been pulled out of the bin and resuscitated. My real fear is that this is not the final stage that the health police want to push.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

They are the health police, and people are concerned about this. They want to be able to make their own decisions about what they eat, what they drink and how they enjoy themselves. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, I suggest that he starts listening to the public.

What I also find extraordinary is the fact that almost four weeks ago I put a private Member’s Bill to Parliament to ban under-18s from being able to access puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in the private sector and on the national health service. Children have been taking those drugs, and that has had life-changing effects on them. They have prevented them from having their own children, created problems with their physique and their bodies, and damaged their health.

Not only did the Labour party not support my private Member’s Bill but its Members talked and filibustered—they talked about ferrets—so much that I was not even able to speak. These are the same people who are saying that in future we should ban cigarettes for 30-year-olds, yet they will not vote to ban puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under-18s. Thank goodness that Hilary Cass has come forward with her report. I welcome the support of the Health and Social Care Secretary for that report, but that is what we should be legislating on. We should be legislating on implementing the recommendations in the Hilary Cass report to prevent real danger to our children, rather than a virtue-signalling piece of legislation about protecting adults from themselves in future.

I am afraid that too many Members of Parliament have gone along with this orthodoxy. I am not surprised that that is the case for Labour and Liberal Democrat Members, who generally do not support freedom. They believe that the Government know best—the state knows best—and we understand that. I am disappointed, however, that a Conservative Government has introduced the Bill. The only other country in the world where such a Bill was brought forward was New Zealand, under a very left-wing Prime Minister. That Bill has now been reversed under the new conservative Government in New Zealand. I have a message for my colleagues on this side of the House. If people want to vote for finger-wagging, nannying control freaks, there are plenty of them to choose from in the Opposition, and that is the way they will vote. If people want to have control over their lives, if they want to have freedom, that is why they vote Conservative. We have to stand by our principles and ideals even if—

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

No, I am not giving way to the party that filibustered on my Bill and stopped us taking action to protect children. That was a disgrace.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Did my right hon. Friend hear the comments of Sir Chris Whitty on the radio this morning? He refused to apologise for or explain the failures of the NHS to deal with the issue of puberty blockers while, at the same time, he professed great support for these oppressive measures which are before the House.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

My hon. Friend makes absolutely the right point. There are double standards in this debate. My view is that it is absolutely right that we protect the under-18s from these potential dangers before they have full decision-making capability, but we should allow adults to exercise that freedom. It seems to me that the medical establishment, the national health service and others working in the health industry have unfortunately been captured by this gender ideology, which is preventing them from seeing the truth of what is happening. That is why the Cass report is welcome. If only Wes Streeting had shown the same level of interest in dealing with the issue of young people and puberty blockers that he has shown in pursuing his crusade against smoking—he was not saying this a few years ago.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

As my right hon. Friend will know, I was in the Chamber on that Friday listening to the filibustering, and was unable to contribute to the important debate on puberty blockers. I support her Bill and am grateful for the Cass report.

In reality, there are some products that are banned for adults—things such as cocaine and heroin—so society as a whole has made a choice that some products must be banned for adults as well as children. It is about where we draw the line. My right hon. Friend said that people should be able to do whatever they want as adults, but in fact unless we want to liberalise laws on drugs and allow people to have heroin, cocaine and everything else—perhaps she does—a line has to be drawn somewhere, and it is just a case of where.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

I certainly do not support the liberalisation of those drugs. We know that people who become addicted to heroin and cocaine are a huge danger to other people and to their families; it destroys society. That is not the level of danger that tobacco poses, so those are very different scenarios.

I will come to my conclusion, because I know that a lot of people want to speak in the debate. What I ask is that Members do not just follow the instructions of the health lobby. We have heard about what the chief medical officer says. I know from being a Government Minister that there are often schemes pushed by officials and civil servants because, fundamentally, there is a belief that government knows best. I want Members of Parliament to think not just about what happens if we ban smoking for people who are over the age of 18, but about the implications for shopkeepers who have to identify whether people are the right age. Will it mean that people have to carry ID into shops with them into their 40s? What are the practical implications? It is a very dangerous precedent to start saying that some adults can have the freedom to smoke and some cannot. That is a fundamental problem. It is fundamentally unconservative, it is unliberal and I will not be supporting the Bill.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for Members of this House to attack individual officers, such as the chief medical officer, or the civil service more generally, when they cannot answer back? Ultimately, advisers advise and Ministers decide. If people do not like Government policy or its consequences, they should take responsibility as Ministers and not attack officials who cannot answer back.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 3:01, 16 April 2024

I am pleased to speak here today in favour of the Bill, part 2 of which specifically relates to Scotland, because smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in both Scotland and the UK. We know that, so we are surely duty bound to act and prevent harms. To be clear from the outset, I want us to help people to stop smoking. Smoking cessation, as well as preventing future harm, requires our action.

Dr Ian Walker, executive director of policy at Cancer Research UK, has correctly pointed out that nothing will have a bigger impact on reducing the number of preventable deaths in the UK then ending smoking. I will not go into detail about the terrible reality of the health impacts of smoking. We have heard about them already today, particularly powerfully from those who have worked directly in the medical environment. We have seen significant successes where we have acted on smoking in the past. I remember when the ban on smoking in indoor public spaces came into effect in Scotland, a first in the UK. It was a bit controversial, but not for long. It has undoubtedly hugely improved our environment and, importantly, our health outcomes. We have seen an important decrease in the numbers of smokers, but let us be real—there are still far too many lives being destroyed by smoking.

I am very glad that Scotland has been in front of the curve on these issues, whether that be with the indoor ban, the overhaul of tobacco sale and display, the ambitious goal of a smoke-free Scotland by 2034 or an issue that I have often spoken about here, the consultation on disposable vapes. The direction of travel is welcome. The SNP welcomes the collaborative step towards creating a smoke-free generation. It is not just us—the public are looking for action too. Action on Smoking and Health tells us that the largest poll of public opinion conducted to date—over 13,000 adults were polled—found 69% in support, including over half of all current smokers.

I watched with some despair—a little bit like I watched some of the proceedings in the House today—media interviews this morning where Elizabeth Truss said some of the things she repeated here in the Chamber. She said:

“I don’t know why this legislation is being brought forward”.

I would have thought that was pretty obvious really, but let me help her with that: it is to stop people dying. She then said, as she has again during the debate, that this is “unconservative” legislation. To be fair, I know absolutely nothing about being a Conservative and I am very much OK with that, but what a bizarre statement. Surely regardless of our varying political views, we can look at the health impacts of smoking and say they is not the future we want, and not the damage, harm and heartbreak we want for future generations.

Let us be clear that any arguments put forward about personal choice or personal freedom make no sense at all when we are talking about children and a highly addictive substance. Smoking is not a free choice; it is an addiction. Nicotine is a horribly addictive substance. That is why this is a positive and necessary move, and one widely welcomed, including by Asthma and Lung UK. That organisation points to the significant harm to future generations if we do not act now, and highlights the enormous cost to the NHS if we do not take this preventative action when we have the opportunity to do so.

Scottish Government Public Health Minister Jenni Minto MSP has welcomed the Bill, pointing out that Scotland has been a world leader on a range of tobacco control measures. While there has been a steady reduction in the proportion of people smoking, we know it still damages lives and kills more than 8,000 people a year in Scotland. If we do not act, we know perfectly well what the impact of that inaction will be.

We also know that smoking causes and exacerbates health inequalities, which is exactly why we need to have a tobacco-free Scotland. Indeed, Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, points out:

“Smoking harms disproportionally affect those with poor mental health and stopping smoking has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to prevent the known mental and physical harms that smoking causes and regulate commercial interests from undermining the health of future generations.”

Asthma and Lung UK notes that the harms of tobacco are not equally distributed. In fact, smoking is responsible for half of the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society. That generational nature of tobacco addiction means that children born today to parents who smoke are four times as likely to take up smoking themselves and to find it harder to quit. So the impact of smoking in terms of generational inequality and harm is clear and known, and we should aim to change that.

I am grateful to Asthma and Lung UK, and to the many other groups that sent me briefing materials. The breadth and range of organisations, including many medical and health groups, that have been in touch to urge me to support improvements in health and to stop future generations becoming addicted to tobacco, is very interesting and speaks to the wide spectrum of those determined to stop this harm, including, as we have heard, a majority of the public and retailers.

I would like to spend a little time talking about vapes, particularly disposable vapes. To nobody’s surprise, I am going to be positive in my support for any and all measures to arrest the tidal wave of children vaping, which should absolutely chill us all. The health impacts on children are terrifying, and that is only the ones we know about. My view is very firmly that all disposable vapes should be banned now, immediately. We should deal with the utmost urgency with the significant harms these devices are causing to our environment and to eye-watering numbers of children. Which of us can seriously say they are confident it is not their children? Members are deluding themselves if they believe that is the case.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

As the hon. Lady knows, as we worked on this subject together, I brought forward a ten-minute rule Bill to ban disposable vapes last year. The measures in that Bill do not form part of the legislation today, because this is health legislation, but the banning of disposable vapes forms part of a statutory instrument that has been brought forward as environmental legislation. Does she welcome that?

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. As she knows, it is important for us to look at disposable vapes in the round, including their devastating environmental effects as well as the terrible impacts they have on the health of our young people. Whichever angle we look from, these are devices of which we have no need and that we should get rid of as soon as possible, before they cause any more harm.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The proliferation of vapes has happened almost overnight. Does my hon. Friend share the concerns of my constituent, who runs a newsagent and tobacconist, that he is holding the fort on legislation about the sale of tobacco, yet vapes are not subject to the same controls? He may refuse somebody because he does not think they are of age to buy a vape, but he finds they just go down the street to purchase it at another shop that does not have the controls and responsibilities that he has as a tobacco salesperson.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. I can understand the concerns of her constituent; these devices are far too accessible and far too easily available. They are in all of our schools and on all of our high streets. We need to open our eyes to the damage that is being done. ASH Scotland does great work in that regard. It tells us that, in Scotland, data from the health behaviour in school-aged children survey showed that current e-cigarette use—that means those who have used them in the last 30 days—among 15-year-olds increased from 7% in 2018, which I would have thought was scary enough, to a horrifying 25% in 2022. Obviously we are a bit beyond that now, so I wonder exactly what the figure is, but we have heard enough in the Chamber today to know that, whatever that current figure is, it should cause us grave concern.

These products are designed to be attractive. They are undoubtedly attractive—we have all seen them. They are disposable, so young people can chuck them before their parents find out, they are pocket-money prices, and they are appealing—green gummy bear flavour, anyone? In fact, the green gummy bear flavoured one is on sale for £1.50, which is a disgrace. Vapes should not be accessible in that way, and should certainly not be sold at £1.50. They could not be designed any more obviously to attract young people. Very often, we are talking about children who have never smoked, but who are now getting hooked on these vapes and getting hooked on nicotine. There is also the worry about the unknown harms that vapes cause to their bodies and their health. The sooner that we can change all of that the better.

I also have a personal gripe: vapes being advertised via sports. There is no reason for that—no justification at all. Yes, I am looking at Blackburn Rovers among others. When I raised the matter previously, Blackburn Rovers, based in the vaping capital of the UK, said:

“At no point during our long-standing relationship has the idea that the Totally Wicked brand might appeal disproportionately to children been raised, and we have seen no evidence to suggest that our sponsorship has encouraged an uptake of vaping among children.”

Well, I am raising it, and raising it again. I urge all sports clubs—because there are others—to have serious thought on this. We want to see our sporting heroes as positive influences on our young people and their health and wellbeing.

To be clear, I support measures to help people stop smoking. It is hard to do and all help is welcome, but that help does not come in the form of candy-coloured, candy-flavoured, pocket money-priced disposable vapes. Let us deal seriously with smoking cessation. Let us deal seriously with the terrible harms caused to our young people by disposable vapes, and let us have the backbone to take the chance now to stop smoking killing so many of our loved ones.

I wish to end by reflecting on the words of William Roberts, chief executive of the Royal Society For Public Health, who said:

“Smoking continues to cut lives short, killing up to two in three long-term users, and placing significant strain on an already overstretched health and social care system. Protecting future generations from the dangers of tobacco is vital if we want to build a healthier future. It is vital that the Bill passes and MPs of all political stripes put prevention at the heart of public policy when it comes to protecting our health.”

I sincerely hope that we do.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee 3:13, 16 April 2024

I start with a spoiler alert: I will be voting to give the Tobacco and Vapes Bill a Second Reading this evening. As we might say, prevention is the new cure. I will not spend my time reading out the screeds of statistics that we have already heard, but the bottom line is that smoking products are the only product on sale legally in our country today that—if you follow the instructions—will kill you. Both Labour and Conservative Governments have acted in the past, and we have seen smoking rates tumble as a result. It is now time to finish the job, and this Bill can be part of that.

Here is where I am coming from. We talk a lot about the pressures on the NHS. Indeed, there have been some new waiting list figures published while we have been away. We talk about public satisfaction—colleagues will be aware of the latest British social attitudes survey last month. We talk endlessly about systems, budgets and staffing, which is all quite proper. They are all issues that we face, and my Health and Social Care Committee does not duck any of them.

We can increase the budget, and we have done so hugely. The NHS in England has never had more money. We can put in a place a properly funded workforce plan, as my Committee called for—and we have. We can produce credible recovery plans for urgent and emergency care, primary care and elective waiting lists, and the Government, to their credit, have done all of those things. We can make use of a much wider workforce—Pharmacy First is a good example—but the truth is that demand continues to outstrip supply, and we cannot continue to increase the health budget faster than our economy is growing. We have to think long-term about population preventive health.

For me, there is no more obvious and glaring candidate for healthcare gains from prevention than action against smoking. When looking at this legislation, I ask not whether we want to finish the job on smoking, or whether it is right to save tens of thousands of lives lost to cancer, heart disease and stroke by doing that—I lost both my parents to cancer before I was 50—but whether the proposed measures aimed at creating a smoke-free generation will actually work. I also ask: how strong is the resolve of Ministers to swiftly use the powers they are taking in the Bill to tackle the use of vapes among children? An issue often overlooked is whether we will we keep the focus on the current smokers we must also help to quit.

Modelling from the Department shows us that if the age of sale were increased by one year every year, as proposed in the Bill, smoking rates among 14 to 30-year-olds are likely to be zero by 2050. I have said this since the Prime Minister announced his intention to bring forward these measures in his conference speech last year, and he deserves so much credit for bringing this change to the House. The Government must win the argument on this as well as the vote, now that the Bill is before Parliament. The Secretary of State, who is no longer in her place, did that today, and I pay credit to the shadow Secretary of State for his part in that.

I wish to touch on an issue that we have already heard of today. The fact is that at some future point we will have a situation in which a 50-year-old can legally smoke while a 49-year-old cannot. There is no getting away from that. That is a possible scenario for sure and, yes, it is rather inelegant, but it also misses the very point of the smoke-free ambition at the heart of the Bill. The clue is in the name: smoke free. The Bill does not criminalise existing smokers, and it ensures that the purchase of tobacco by those under the legal age of sale will not be criminalised. Compliance will be the responsibility of the business, as is the case with the current age-of-sale laws in England. The Bill makes it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone who is born on or after new year’s day 2009. That includes my 13-year-old son, William. By passing this legislation, the state is saying to him that it is not okay to start smoking when he reaches 18—I think that when we look back we will ask how we ever said it was—and by doing so my son never becomes that 49-year-old. End of story.

We are told that raising the age of sale will fuel the black market, and the next generation of smokers will pick up the habit via illicit sales. A comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy, updated over time, has succeeded in halving the illicit market share from 22% to 11%. I welcome the fact that the anti-smuggling strategy of Border Force and His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has been updated in the light of this proposed legislation. Am I just being hopeful in thinking this will work? Select Committee Chairs do not just do hope; they do evidence. I do not think I am just being hopeful. When the age of sale was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007, the illicit market did not increase.

Of course, all this—and, as I have said, we must continue to give help to current smokers to quit—needs funding. I welcome the investment of £70 million a year for the next five years into stop-smoking services, but that is a lot of money, so I cannot for the life of me see why Ministers do not look again at the Khan review call for a “polluter pays” principle in the form of a tobacco industry levy. Let us make that a reality.

Let me turn to vapes. The Bill gets 10 out of 10 for intention, but on planned enforceable action I am not so sure, because we just do not know enough. Increasingly, the genie is already out of the bottle—or out of the unknown, untested, bubble-gum flavoured canister—when it comes to vaping, but the kids are not alright on this. Let us make no mistake: users are mostly youngsters, who these days will seldom even think of trying the fags. Vapes are no longer only or even principally aimed at adults who are trying to quit cigarettes. Just when smoking by children was decreasing, vaping by children has started to rise hugely. Between 2018 and 2020, vaping rates doubled.

The benefit of vaping as a safer option for those who currently smoke tobacco is clear, but it is also increasingly obvious that for those who have never smoked it is certainly not risk free. The World Health Organisation has said that vapes are harmful. Schools are worried, as colleagues will hear from any headteacher in their constituencies. In my Committee’s oral evidence hearing on vaping, our witnesses repeatedly raised concerns about the health and behavioural effects of vaping-led nicotine consumption and addiction in schools, including on concentration in class.

The long-term effects of vaping are simply not known, so I cautiously welcome the fact that the Bill takes powers to crack down on youth vaping through regulations to restrict flavours, point-of-sale displays in retail outlets and packaging. However, I cannot go further, because the Bill states throughout:

The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision”,

and by virtue of the fact that we do not have those regulations before us, it is hard to get a sense of their scope. In winding up, will the Minister update the House on when we might see those regs?

I am pleased to see the new excise duty on vaping products to discourage non-smokers and young people from vaping. I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will lead on the ban on the sale and supply of disposable vapes, and that the draft Environmental Protection (Single-use Vapes) (England) Regulations 2024 were out for consultation until the end of March. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister updated the House on when that legislation will be taken forward and whether the Bill must first receive Royal Assent? Obviously, I understand the environmental case for a ban on disposables, but I have concerns about us taking away a ladder for adult smokers to climb down. We must be super careful not to tip adults who use vapes to quit cigarettes back to smoking by taking away options.

There has been some talk of a retail licensing scheme—we heard the Secretary of State refer to it earlier. We could perhaps disregard such a scheme if we went down the road of a prescription-only model for vapes so that they are used only under clinical guidance to help adults smokers to quit. In truth, I do not think our current regulatory environment, courtesy of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, makes it easy to bring a prescription vape to market. The speed of innovation in the sector alongside the slowness of regulation would make it a real challenge for providers, and unless Ministers address that, I do not see how we advance that cause.

We will hear today—we certainly have in the media—about banning things. We will hear about the nanny state, and perhaps even an echo from the distant past about Anglo-Saxon England. Well, as the MP representing the capital of the former Kingdom of Wessex, I do not hold much truck with that. I prefer to listen—fool that I am—to the four chief medical officers of our nation, who say:

“To be pro-individual choice should mean being against the deliberate addiction of children, young people and young adults to something that will harm them, potentially fatally.”

I have always believed that in a publicly funded healthcare system we have a right and, indeed, a responsibility to act on public health, because it becomes everyone’s problem when we do not. Conservatives for whom a smaller state is their thing—although I can never pinpoint which part of the state they do not want their constituents to have—should be right behind a healthier society, because it is one that needs the state less, relies on the state less and costs the state less.

In the light of the important points that I have tried to cover, I will vote to give this important and historic Bill a Second Reading.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall 3:23, 16 April 2024

I support the Bill in principle, and will vote for its Second Reading later, because it is an anti-smoking measure. Smoking is the forgotten killer of our society, and the Bill contains initiatives against child vaping that I and others have been urging for some time. Let us not be in doubt: the Bill will pass, but it will pass with Labour votes, so I will direct my remarks to its shortcomings.

The Bill is late, it is slapdash and it makes several big mistakes. It seems to have more to do with the Prime Minister’s legacy than with the need for effective interventions against smoking. Disposable vapes arrived in this country and started the youth vaping epidemic during pandemic lockdowns, the last of which finished three years ago. The Prime Minister is concerned about it only now, with his time in No. 10 drawing to a close but very little to show for it. The Government were too slow and slack to get out in front of the issue. Even after three years, they do not have precise proposals for vape regulation to put before the House. As others have said, no consultations have been conducted and nobody is sure what exactly needs to be done—although we all know that something must be done. Children vaping, fake vapes, fake cigarettes that are even more harmful than real ones—these are public health disasters, but they are already illegal, so will not be deterred any more than they are now.

What does the Bill do for the 6.4 million existing smokers? Nothing. In 2019, the Government set a target of bringing prevalence down to 5% by 2030. That was a stretch target and was to be applauded—it was ambitious, but it could have been done. Instead, the Government have dropped all mention of it, and are covering their tracks and distracting us with the generational smoking ban, which will do nothing to help those who already smoke.

What we really need is relentless, thorough and inescapable enforcement, including massive boosts to the resources of trading standards, so that local councils can blast the crime gangs out of their neighbourhoods and keep them out. The fact is that most vapes sold to our children are already illegal. It is illegal for them to be sold to under-18s, to have tanks exceeding 2 ml and 600 puffs, to not carry the right warnings, and to be sold without MHRA approval. While enforcement remains feeble, the disposable ban will make little difference.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Conservative, Windsor

I am listening closely to what the hon. Gentleman says because I share his passion for driving cowboys out of this industry. Does he recognise my observation that those in the industry, and particularly small shop owners, who are quite often from ethnic minority groups, are equally keen to have greater levels of enforcement because they want to drive the cowboys out as much as we do?

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

The hon. Gentleman jumps to a point that I will cover later in my remarks.

Most of the vapes being sold to our children are already illegal. While enforcement remains feeble, the disposable ban will make little difference. The Government are offering £10 million per year for three years to trading standards. That would be good if there were only 20 trading standards departments across the UK; unfortunately, there are 197, so the offer is pure tokenism. Under the generational smoking ban, the Government want to make every shop worker a target for every shopper, just to cover their own failure, Shopkeepers in my constituency are greatly concerned about the pressure this ban will place on them as retailers and on their staff. Retail workers already suffer unacceptable behaviour from customers on a daily basis, which will only get worse. Age-restricted sales are the biggest cause of violence against staff, apart from shoplifting. This ban places often disadvantaged workers at threat of risky and dangerous working environments.

Smoking is a major driver of health inequality. Disproportionate numbers of sufferers of smoking-related diseases are from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Many are dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore smokers. They should give up—they know that—but most of them are not able to do so. None of them thinks that smoking is healthy or safe, so it is urgent that wherever possible they are helped to transition to less dangerous forms of nicotine such as vaping, nicotine pouches and heated tobacco products. No one alternative suits every hardcore smoker. It is an ideologically blinkered mistake to prevent future under-age smokers—those we can never stop—from accessing relatively safer heated tobacco products. I have stated before in this House the relative benefits of HTPs. I said earlier that this Bill does nothing for existing smokers; incredibly, this provision actually makes things worse for them. A pragmatic policy would have seized the potential of all these alternatives, not just vapes, and a smoke-free 2030 could have been a reality. Instead, the Government are playing with people’s lives and making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Finally, the Bill also overlooks the highly carcinogenic scourges of paan and betel in the south Asian community. Only a targeted, community-specific intervention would have any effect in tackling those scourges—I have been drawing attention to them for years. We have waited years for primary legislation on tobacco, but it seems that our needs have again been overlooked, and south Asians will remain at the back of the queue for years to come.

I will support the Bill on Second Reading, but there is huge room for improvement. In particular, trading standards should be given the tools it needs to break the hold that illegal products already have on the market, and while we still have smokers, heated tobacco products should be removed from the generational ban as part of a broad range of less harmful alternatives. I must say that all those ethnic minority shopkeepers are concerned but supportive of this move; they believe that the ban should be in place, but that they should be supported. They feel strongly that at present, not enough support is coming from the Bill and the Government. I hope that the Government will take on board some of what I have said, and that the Bill will emerge much amended on Third Reading.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Conservative, Bromsgrove 3:33, 16 April 2024

When I was appointed Health Secretary in 2021, we were still in the midst of the pandemic. That challenging time taught us so much about the strength and resilience of our nation, but it also cast an uncomfortable light on truths that we have too often chosen to ignore. In the past, this country has been at the cutting edge of preventive healthcare, but while we have talked a good game on that issue in recent decades, in truth, we have not always delivered.

I would argue that we still face a public health emergency in this country—one that consumes 40% of the NHS budget, ensures that regional inequalities persist, and limits the life chances and opportunities of individuals right across our country. This public health emergency has many causes, and at the top of the list must be smoking, especially of cigarettes. That is why I commissioned Javed Khan to lead an independent review of smoking. I am immensely grateful to him for his excellent work and I am proud that he has led us to this legislation. The title of his report, “Making smoking obsolete”, is the right mission for us to deliver on, especially given this Government’s commitment in 2019 to a smoke-free Britain.

One of the most important problems Javed Khan identifies is the dual impact of tobacco and nicotine. First, it is incredibly damaging to the health of individuals. As we have heard from so many right hon. and hon. Members, no amount of tobacco is safe. Secondly, it is corrosive of personal liberty and agency. Smoking remains the biggest single cause of preventable illness and death in this country, causing, as we have heard, some 80,000 deaths a year. Smokers are 36% more likely to be admitted to hospital and to need social care 10 years before non-smokers. It causes one in four cancer-related deaths. Behind each of these statistics is an individual life, a family and a community impacted by poorer health. It is therefore only right that we take robust action to protect future generations from these harmful products.

As Javed Khan rightly highlighted in his report, the public are often led to believe that smoking is a personal choice, whereas the reality is that nicotine is a highly addictive drug that corrodes personal agency. Four in five smokers start before the age of 20 and remain addicted for the rest of their lives. As we have heard, many people want to give up smoking, and we have heard some personal stories in the House about just how hard that has been, and how many people, sadly, do not succeed. Many struggle to break free from addiction, and the average number of attempts of those who eventually do successfully quit is 30.

I know that some hon. Members have publicly expressed their reservations about the proposal before us, and we have heard that in this debate, but can we honestly say that this drug enhances personal liberty and freedom? It is a nonsense argument. Anyone who makes that argument is choosing to stand up for big tobacco against the interests of their constituents, and to erode people’s personal liberty and remove their freedom to choose by giving them access to a drug. This drug diminishes economic freedom, and it diminishes the wealth of individuals and of our country. Its overall impact across the country is to reduce opportunity and to drive social challenges. Indeed, if cigarettes were first manufactured today, they would obviously never get through consumer product safety testing.

Given that we are where we are and given what we know, it is of course right to protect future generations from this drug and this addiction. Freedom from pain, disease and inequality is one of the greatest freedoms there is, and whether it is tackling burning injustices, levelling up or even the big society, these missions are more than compatible with the legislation before the House. This is a world-leading proposal backed by clinical evidence and supported by a strong moral cause. As surveys have shown again and again—and, again, just recently—it is strongly supported by the general public of all ages. It is the right approach to public health, it is the right approach for our country and it is more than worthy of the support of this whole House.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 3:39, 16 April 2024

First, I want to put on record my thanks to the public health Minister Dame Andrea Leadsom and the chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty, who spent time answering my questions and those of some of my colleagues. It was a very collegiate exercise and I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. It would be good to see more of that.

The Government proposals on vapes are an absolute no-brainer and are consistent with Liberal Democrat party policy that was adopted at our conference last year, including the ban on single-use vapes on environmental grounds. Parents and teachers in St Albans are particularly concerned about the insidious marketing of vapes to young people: the colours, flavours and packaging are designed to appeal to children. Earlier in the debate the shadow Secretary of State, Wes Streeting talked about children gathering in toilets, desperate to use their vapes. I am aware, unfortunately, of one example in my constituency where children have gathered in toilets not just to use the vapes but to take them apart to use as containers for smuggling in more dangerous substances, thereby using the vapes as a new gateway drug. I therefore entirely support the Government’s proposals on the regulation of vapes.

The question of a so-called smoking ban on those aged 15 and younger, stopping them being sold cigarettes, is not so straightforward, however. For Liberal Democrats there will be a free vote on this Bill; there are some good liberal arguments to be made both for and against it. I will be supporting the measures in the Bill, but some of my colleagues have remaining liberal and practical concerns. For example, in 30 years’ time how does somebody prove they are 46 and not 45 without a driver’s licence or a passport? How can we prevent abuse at retailers, too? I hope the Government will be providing more reassurances to colleagues on these issues.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does the hon. Member accept that that difficulty puts the onus on the retailer, who is meant to distinguish between a 45-year-old and a 46-year-old, and if they do not do that or they do so incorrectly, they could find themselves faced with a fine? Is that fair?

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Colleagues across the House have genuine concerns about that point. I know from engagements in my constituency that a number of retailers already suffer attacks when challenging people wishing to buy other age-related products, so I hope the Government will offer reassurances about what they intend to do to tackle that.

As I have said, I will be supporting the measures in this Bill, but coming to that decision was a bit of a journey for me. My first reaction on hearing of the Bill before it was published was indignation, because the measures are just a drop in the ocean in terms of what is needed to tackle cancer. One in two of us will get cancer at some point, yet the Government have missed their targets to provide fast cancer treatment every year since 2015 and have dropped their 10-year cancer plan. What we need is research in rare cancers, outdated cancer scanners updated, cancer nurses and efforts to tackle waiting times. It would perhaps have been better if the measures in this Bill had been a single clause in a much broader Bill. To be honest, I am frustrated that so much energy is going into this Bill, which could be described as low-hanging fruit, rather than into producing a much more ambitious plan to tackle cancer more broadly. We need to see more ambition in this area.

My second reaction was the raising of my liberal hackles. Liberals are not libertarians; we do not object to all bans. Liberals support bans as a last resort, but not as a first lever. The situation here is frustrating, however: it is a bit rich that the Government are bringing this Bill forward when they have simultaneously been slashing public health budgets, including for smoking cessation programmes, since 2015. Even with the new money the Government have put into smoking cessation programmes, the funds still fall far short of 2015 levels. We also know that smoking rates among young people have dropped very quickly; they are now down to 1% and continue to drop.

Liberals do sometimes back bans when a particular product or practice causes excessive harm, and that is why I have decided to back this ban. Fundamentally, I asked myself a simple question: is this going to help reduce the overwhelming harm caused by the significantly dangerous and addictive practice of smoking? The answer is yes, it is. We know that smoking is dangerous and highly addictive. We know that smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer, causing around one in four cancer deaths, including 64,000 in England alone. We know that 75,000 GP appointments each month are taken up by smoking-related illness. We know that smoking costs the economy £17 billion a year through smoking-related lost earnings, unemployment and early death. We know that it comes at enormous cost to our NHS, and we know that smoking rates in pregnancy vary hugely, with as many as 20% of pregnant women smoking in some parts of the country, increasing the chance of stillbirth by almost 50%. That is an incredibly stark health inequality.

Some people have suggested it could be contradictory for a liberal to support a ban on tobacco for 15-year-olds and younger while wanting to legalise cannabis, but let me say to them that they are wrong. It is entirely consistent for a liberal to want to make harmful products illegal—harmful products such as nicotine in cigarettes, skunk and products with high THC levels that can cause psychosis—while simultaneously wanting to have a legal regulated market for less harmful products such as vapes for nicotine and cannabis products with low and regulated THC levels.

In conclusion, do I think this measure is the first or best thing that the Government should be doing to tackle cancer? No. Do I think this measure is particularly ambitious? No. But do I think it is a useful step that will help us to tackle the dangerous health impacts of smoking addiction, to improve population health and to take pressure off the NHS? Personally, I do.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I remind colleagues to stick to the guidance of seven minutes, because otherwise I will have to impose a time limit, and it might not be seven minutes, which would be annoying for everybody.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 3:47, 16 April 2024

I start my speech by saying that there are some good parts of this Bill. The banning of disposable vapes and preventing children from starting smoking or vaping is something that anyone with a brain—there are perhaps more of them on the Government Benches than on the Opposition Benches—would support. I will address my remarks to whether banning all children who are now 15 from ever smoking is the right way to stop them smoking, as well as talking about whether any Government have a mandate on removing personal liberty.

I am sorry to see Wes Streeting leaving his place, because I was about to address some remarks to him. It is unfortunate for the quality of debate to label someone standing up to ask whether this measure will be effective as someone who wants children to smoke. I am an ex-smoker and I do not want children to smoke; I just want to pass decent laws in this House to ensure that we can reduce the number of young people smoking. That is why, when I look at this ban, I question whether it will work.

I put it to the Secretary of State that 20% of young people say they have tried cannabis. Those are not my statistics, but those of the Office for National Statistics. That is twice as many as the number of young people who say that they have tried tobacco, I think within the past 30 days. If bans worked—cannabis is banned—no child would ever have tried cannabis. It is illegal not just for those who are 15, but for all of us, whatever age we are. I went to Aintree this weekend to enjoy the grand national. I was amazed that people were walking around at one of the most heavily policed events in the UK openly snorting cocaine. It is a class A drug, and the police were doing nothing about it. If bans worked and the police enforced them, no one is this country would take drugs. I therefore question whether banning people who are now 15 from ever starting smoke will work. To me, the answer is no.

I will move on to the mandate for any MP or any Government in this place to seek to bring in such a measure in advance of a general election. If Members go to Washington and have a look at the Korean war memorial, they will walk past thousands of names—it is an extraordinary memorial—and at the end there is a bold statement: “Freedom is not free”. All the freedoms that we enjoy in this country have not been given to us; they have been fought for. People have died to ensure that we keep those freedoms.

What we are really talking about today is removing from a group of people in our society—they may be young now, but do not forget that, at the general election after next, some will be 18 and banned from smoking, while some 19-year-old voters will be able to smoke—the right ever to have the agency to make their own decisions. If we believe in freedom, we must accept that people have to be free to make bad decisions as well as good ones. If we live in a society where the only decisions that we are free to make are those that the Government tell us we are free to make, we might as well live in a socialist society—we may as well live in Russia or China. For me, freedom means the freedom to get things wrong.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

My right hon. Friend is making some extremely valid points. Freedom with responsibility and freedom of choice are surely what the Conservative party should stand for. We can think of all kinds of reasons to ban all kinds of things, but surely the choice of the individual should be paramount. It is not for Government to dictate to individuals.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is quite right. That is the legal position under the law in this country if we have capacity, no matter how bad the decisions we make. Constituents have contacted me about elderly relatives who are making poor financial decisions, but because they have capacity they are free to make those decisions, albeit bad ones in some cases.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I will not. I have given way once and want to stick to my time. I will not support the Bill, because I believe in freedom.

My second point is about mandate. The Prime Minister does not have a mandate to bring forward this legislation, and no Labour or Liberal Democrat MPs—in fact, no MPs in the House—have a mandate to vote for it, because it was not in our manifestos. We are just months away from a general election. If people believe that this measure is so important, they should put it in their manifestos. The Conservative party could put it in our manifesto and let people vote for it.

The powers that we have in this House of Commons are not ours; they are lent to us by our constituents between general elections. We are quite rightly getting to the point where we have to return those powers to our constituents and try to persuade them that we have done a good enough job to get them back. Before we start giving away their freedoms and liberties, let us at least give them the opportunity to have a say.

There is one addiction in this country that I am even more concerned about than the addiction to nicotine: the addiction of the Government to telling people what to do. I want to live in a free society where I am free to make both good and bad decisions. As people go through the Aye Lobby to support the Bill this evening—I shall be going through the No Lobby—I ask them to cast their mind back to the last time we were all washed through the Aye Lobby together on a wave of health and science and righteous hope to keep people safe, which was during the covid pandemic.

I am proud of furlough and all sorts of things, but I regret closing schools. It was the wrong thing to do, but I was washed along on that wave. I opposed some of the covid proposals. People should look back to that and think, “That was the last time we took people’s freedoms away from them. Did we always get it right?” In my view, the answer is no. We got lots of things right, but we also made lots of mistakes. As people march through the Lobby, they should think about whether in fact they urgently need to support the Bill or whether it should wait until after a general election—we may have a different Government then, if polls are to be believed—when the British public will have at least had the question put to them.

The addiction of our Government to telling us what to do goes beyond whether we should smoke. During covid, they determined who we could go to bed with, whether we could sit in the park and read a newspaper, and whether we could go to work. We are now told how we can heat our homes and whether we can drive an older diesel car in London. Unfortunately, we live in a country where those freedoms—those freedoms that are not free—are being eroded every single year of our lives. That is not something that I am comfortable with, and it is not something that I am prepared to support.

There are good bits to the Bill, but we cannot allow the fact that good bits of legislation have been annexed to this terrible legislation, which in my view will not work, to force us to support it. The Government could bring in the vaping measures on their own, and I would support them. I just do not support the creeping ban on tobacco. When people reach the age of 18 in a free society, they must be free to choose for themselves.

I will finish with this. If Members find themselves in the No Lobby tonight—I hope I will see a few colleagues in there—they should keep in their mind that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it. In my view, by voting no tonight, we defend the freedoms of our constituents and our country. It is the right thing to do, and I look forward to seeing as many colleagues in there as possible.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:55, 16 April 2024

It is right that the Government bring forward this legislation, but I remind the House that Labour first proposed outlawing the sale of cigarettes to the next generation over a year ago. It is good to see the Government playing catch-up.

Fresh and Balance, the award-winning north-east regional programme dedicated to tobacco control, has found that 73% of adults in our region support the Government’s proposals. Its director, Ailsa Rutter, said in support of the Bill’s progress:

“Most people who smoke get addicted young… This is about giving our next generation a life free of a cancer-causing addiction which…ends-up killing 2 out of 3”.

It is very concerning that the Government are estimated to be seven years behind their 2030 smoke-free target, and not on course to meet it in the most deprived areas of our country until 2044.

I want to concentrate on one of the best tools to help smokers quit, which can contribute to the smoke-free target: vaping. Colleagues may know that I am a strong advocate for vaping as a way for adults to quit smoking. I am also an officer of the all-party parliamentary group for responsible vaping. As such, for the past few years I have worked directly with the industry to promote vaping as an alternative for those who want to give up smoking. I grew up in a household where both parents smoked, but in recent years I have seen so many relatives and friends, including 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, and more than 6.5 million adults still smoke. Although it is not risk-free, vaping is 95% safer than smoking. However, I would never advocate that someone who did not smoke, or who had never tried to smoke, should start vaping. I stress that vapes are a tool for helping smokers to quit. It is unequivocal that under-18s should not use or have any access to vape products. Youth vaping is a major area of concern. It is shameful that in 2021 the Government voted down a Labour amendment to the Health and Care Bill.

The rise in young people using vapes is of great concern to the legitimate vaping industry in this country. Everyone realises that something needs to be done to stop this trend, especially as existing laws are not being enforced. One in three vapes sold in UK shops is estimated to be illicit, so it is imperative that the Government act against the illegal vapes market. The industry itself has put forward many good proposals to prohibit the sale of vapes to minors, halt the illegal market and support the view that vaping should be a tool for smokers to quit. The industry produced a set of proposals to amend the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, to ensure that packaging and marketing are regulated and not aimed at children.

I would like to share the view of the UK Vaping Industry Association, in the hope that its observations may be considered as the Bill progresses. A major concern is that the impact assessment report by the Department of Health and Social Care fails to consider the potentially detrimental effects of restriction on current vape users and smokers looking to switch. It is important that the regulatory measures are thoroughly assessed to ensure that they do not inadvertently hinder smoking cessation efforts and lead to an increase in tobacco-related harm. I support the industry’s call to include a vape retailer and distribution licensing scheme in the Bill. The industry has developed a comprehensive framework for such a scheme, which is designed to deal effectively once and for all with the issue of under-age and illicit vape sales, a situation the industry believes will only get worse given the predicted rise in black market sales as a result of the proposed ban on disposable vapes.

I make a plea for the Government to consult more closely with the industry than they have done in the past to ensure that a workable regulatory and legislative change can be made. It is worth reminding the House that, according to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the best estimate shows that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to our health than normal cigarettes and, when supported by a smoking cessation service, help more smokers to quit tobacco altogether.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury 4:00, 16 April 2024

I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Jake Berry for his speech and for mentioning the word “freedom”. It is really important that we do that. I am not coming at the debate from a libertarian perspective—more of a practical one—but, in essence, I agree very much with the majority of what he said.

As an ex-smoker, I share the Prime Minister’s aim of reducing the prevalence of smoking. I never want to see anyone, especially young people, pick up this dangerous habit. It is therefore with some sadness that I rise to explain why I do not expect to follow him into the Lobby on this vote. My great reservation is that the Bill is impractical and could easily make things worse through unintended consequences. There are 5 million users of vaping products, and there is a substantial risk that restricting the use of vapes will lead to them moving back to smoking, increasing the burden on our health system.

Vaping is recognised by Public Health England as 95% safer than tobacco use. Late last year, a study by Brunel University London revealed that if half the number of adult smokers switched to vaping it would save the NHS more than £500 million a year. The potential restriction on the flavours of vapes, which the Bill gives Ministers the power over, could also have unintended consequences, as stated in the Department of Health and Social Care’s own impact assessment. Restricting vape flavours would mean around three quarters of the 1 million adults who vape could be affected in some way.

A further study, published by Bristol University, considered the impact of removing all flavours on non-smoking young people and adult smokers using vapes as a quit aid. The study found that as a result of the flavour ban, more adults would be at risk of smoking tobacco cigarettes. Flavoured vaping is a smoking cessation tool. I can testify to that from my own experience, having chosen mango flavour over the unpleasant tobacco flavour on offer in the market.

Furthermore, the illicit cigarette share of the market is officially 11%, up from 8% five years before, and has been on an upward trend over the past decade. Far higher levels of illicit produce can be found in constituencies containing less affluent areas. Dangerous, illegal and untaxed nicotine products are also easily and widely available across the country. During a test purchase exercise I attended in my constituency, we found 21 retail outlets selling harmful, illicit or counterfeit cigarettes; illicit prices as low as 35% to 45% of legal prices; illegal vapes available in up to 24 ml tank sizes, when the legal limit is 2 ml; and British packaging and safety requirements on products not followed.

The consequences are that people buying unregulated cigarettes and vapes, particularly counterfeit ones, are risking their health greatly. The profits generated are taken by criminals rather than legitimate taxpaying businesses. No excise is paid on these illicit products, illegal distribution networks are deeply embedded into the black market and the dissuasive effect of high taxation is evaded. Although penalties have been increased, the huge disparities between those for tobacco smuggling and those for smuggling drugs will continue to attract criminal gangs, because it is a relatively low-risk form of organised crime. I believe that, sadly, the funding surge for trading standards that was announced earlier in the debate will not be sufficient to tackle those issues.

Furthermore, nothing in the Bill will help the 6.4 million existing smokers. Indeed, by treating heated tobacco products and certain types of vapes in the same way as cigarettes, it decreases the chance that those who smoke will switch to a less dangerous alternative. I would have preferred the Government to focus on the Smokefree 2030 ambition that was aimed at those existing smokers.

Finally, I believe that the Bill is unenforceable and will put undue pressures on legitimate tobacco and vaping retailers. Those points were raised with me recently by shopkeepers at a parliamentary Association of Convenience Stores event. All the shop owners who spoke to me were genuinely concerned about the violence and verbal abuse to which they would potentially be subjected for trying to enforce the age limits set by the Government, and they also felt that they would lose more revenue to shops in their areas selling illegal vapes and cigarettes.

While I believe that the Bill is well intentioned, it risks having an effect that is the reverse of what it is trying to achieve, and that is why I will reluctantly vote against it.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 4:05, 16 April 2024

Let me first put on record that I worked in respiratory medicine for 20 years before coming to this place, and every single patient I treated regretted being where he or she was. Let me also put on record my thanks to Javed Khan for his excellent report. It is important for us to follow the science and the facts in this debate, and to ensure that we take the harm reduction approach that is so necessary.

The Bill is both bold and the right thing to do. Smoking kills one person every five minutes in the UK, and kills 7.69 million people globally every year. It is a leading cause of preventable death and disability and is responsible for one in four cancer deaths, alongside heart and circulatory diseases and strokes. We must do everything we can to prevent the tobacco industry from exploiting another generation to max out its profits, leaving people financially impoverished and in poor physical health.

Public health teams need the resources that are necessary to support adults into a smoke-free future, and I echo what Mark Eastwood said: we need a focus on resourcing to achieve that. In my constituency 9,100 people continue to smoke, and they deserve better. We need a targeted approach, because passive smoking is still costly to people’s lives. We know that smoking in pregnancy is harmful to the unborn; we also know that it targets the very poorest in our society, driving greater health inequalities, and affecting people with mental health conditions as well. It is urgent, indeed imperative, for the Government to turn their attention to addressing the inequalities that are seen in all areas of healthcare.

Let me now turn to the issue of vaping. York’s schools survey showed that 19 % of children had tried vaping, while 5% in the city vaped regularly. Schools are battling to stamp out the practice. While much of the detail in the Bill will be set out in secondary legislation, I urge the Government to go toe to toe with the approach taken on tobacco products: plain packaging, health warnings, and no designer products, attractive flavours, descriptions or colours. When it comes to sales, the approach should be no less stringent, putting products out of sight and out of mind. The aim must be to create a vape-free generation too. I urge Ministers to address the reasons why Gen Z have turned to vaping on a large scale, to develop the interventions that are needed to help them make better choices, and to expose the blatant exploitation by vape companies that profit from the creation of a new generation of addicts. We are yet to know the extent of the translation of non-nicotine vaping to nicotine-based products, but researchers are examining the relationship between vaping and moving on to tobacco products, and it is extremely worrying. Clearly, the industry has worked out the correlation. To profit, it needs the next generation to be addicted to its goods—to nicotine—so non-nicotine vapes must be seen as the first step for those moving into forms of nicotine addiction.

Where I believe the Bill falls short is in its approach to adults taking up vaping. As the Minister recognises, vapes are seen as an important public health measure to stop smoking, so there must be greater ambition to prevent people over 18, as well as those under 18, from starting vaping, yet the Bill is silent on that. We know that vapes are not harm free, and I urge the Minister to broaden her ambition for a nicotine-free generation by instituting vaping cessation programmes through a public health model.

Where people are allowed to vape should be no different from where they can smoke. Indeed, people who already have poor respiratory health are impacted by vaping. Therefore, let us make things simple by introducing one set of rules for public places such as bars and so on, and for private vehicles where they are children..

May I urge the Minister to look again at the enforcement proposals? I support investment in strengthening local authorities’ trading standards teams. The team in York have just seized 1,000 vapes, worth £13,000. They need funding and the tools to do their work. I question the paucity of the fixed penalty notice, which is just £100. This is not a sufficient deterrent for illegal traders, and I urge the Government to increase the amount and review it annually. Placing that in secondary legislation would enable more flexibility.

That takes me to my last point about where I believe the legislation falls short. A vaping company came before the Health and Social Care Committee. It promoted its products through a relationship with Blackburn Rovers. The arguments it used for doing so mirrored those that the tobacco industry has propagated for decades. We saw right through them—we tested their reasoning and they failed at every turn. There must be an outright ban on all forms of vaping advertising for nicotine and non-nicotine products, and it should be no less stringent than the ban on tobacco advertising. We must legislate for a complete advertising ban, and I trust that the Minister will look at that when bringing the Bill into Committee.

The reason why I sound the warning bells is that the limitation on the available science does not mean that there is none. The Health and Social Care Committee has met academics at the University of London who have undertaken a study of 3,500 samples of tissue to show that vaping can cause changes in epithelial cells in the oral cavity. They want to look at lung tissue, but access is available only via a bronchoscopy. They observed DNA methylation changes, which provide a very early indication that cells will grow more quickly and are biomarkers for early identification of the onset of disease, such as cancer. In researching the impact of smoking on tobacco users, the researchers have also demonstrated the impact of vaping. This powerful, peer-reviewed research is the first of its kind. I urge the Minister to read the paper by Professor Martin Weschwendler and Dr Chiara Herzog.

Smoking kills, and while vaping may be less harmful than smoking, it is not without significant risk. We cannot use ignorance—the excuse used by past Governments—as a reason for getting this wrong. We must follow the science, be on our guard and recognise that where people are being exploited, it is the duty of this Parliament to protect them. This industry is driven by a profit motive—one of exploitation. It is our job to protect our constituents.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip 4:14, 16 April 2024

Everyone would like to see a cessation of smoking. People stopping for good, let alone starting at an early age, would bring long-term health benefits to the nation as a whole. Sadly, the problem is that this Bill will not be the vehicle to achieve such an ambition. It is a Bill written by non-smokers for smokers, and it is so out of touch with the cause that they want to cure that it will miss its target by a very long shot. First of all, the Bill does not ban smoking; it only stops the sale of tobacco to 18-year-olds if they turn 15 this year. We heard today from the Secretary of State that 100,000 children already start smoking every year. The sale of tobacco is already banned for those children.

The Bill is based on the premise that children today still ask their mate’s older brother to buy them some cigarettes from the corner shop, like they did back in the 1980s. They do not. The vast majority of regular smokers today only ever buy their cigarettes from the corner shop when they have run out of illicitly bought cigarettes. If people do not believe me, they should pop into any pub in the UK and ask the smokers whether they buy tax-paid cigarettes from the supermarket and the corner shop. I guarantee that the vast majority do not. In every community there are avenues to buy illicit cigarettes at a fraction of the average price of £15 for a pack of 20 cigarettes from the corner shop.

A recent poll of 12,000 adult smokers found that the illegal tobacco market remains resilient in the UK in spite of the number of overall smokers declining year on year. On that basis alone, the illicit market is increasing. The study found that 76% of those 12,000 smokers bought tobacco in the last year that had not been subject to UK tax, with nearly one in two smokers having no objection to buying non-UK-duty-paid tobacco from family, friends, colleagues or shops. The poll also revealed that 9% of smokers who buy tobacco through social media or websites advertising cheap tobacco do so at least once a month.

Evidence from around the world shows that when we put further restrictions on people, smugglers and gangs take over where the Government have left the market. South Africa banned the sale of tobacco during the pandemic and it is now struggling with the gangs and smugglers who cover 93% of the market there. In Australia, as mentioned earlier, there has been a rise in the number of young people smoking, and retailers there have been fire-bombed when corner shops have refused to stock illicit tobacco. Children do not buy £15 packets of cigarettes either; they buy illicit tobacco from the same sources in the community—the smugglers and gangs.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill allocates £30 million to trading standards. That is a drop in the ocean. Trading standards is not just a sick department; it needs life support to come anywhere near to achieving the task it already needs to achieve. That £30 million still leaves it with a shortfall of £78 million on its budget in 2009. Spending on trading standards in 2009 was £213 million. This year it was frozen at £102.5 million, and between 2009 and 2016 the number of trading standards officers fell by 56%. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has warned that cuts have created a “postcode lottery” of provision and called for an urgent review of how trading standards are resourced.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

My right hon. Friend is making some extremely important points. He seems to be saying that, however laudable and well intentioned the Bill is, it is impractical and unenforceable because there is insufficient funding for trading standards to make it happen in reality.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip

That is exactly what I am saying. The Government’s aim to create a generation of smoke-free people as time progresses just will not work. It is not working now when it is already banned for those 100,000 young people who take up smoking every year. In 2021, trading standards seized just over £7.8 million in illicit tobacco. This is from the UK Government’s own guesstimate that illicit tobacco accounts for more than 16% of the market, resulting in a loss of £2.8 billion—billion, not million—in tax and duty.

We have heard that the Bill is based on the New Zealand model. New Zealand does not have an illicit tobacco problem like we do here in the UK. It is 2,500 miles away from the nearest big trader, Australia; the UK is 23 miles away from the continent. The two countries cannot be compared. The New Zealand model has now failed, and it has performed a U-turn, as we have heard. Instead, the New Zealand Government continue to support initiatives to provide people with practical tools and support to help them to quit, including by ensuring the provision of effective services to stop smoking, providing access to alternative products to help smoking cessation, and promoting social media marketing campaigns to stop smoking and vaping.

The Bill provides little guidance or support on cessation to those who already smoke. I myself was one of the 6.4 million smokers here in the UK, but I stopped smoking just over a year ago. I found very little help or support from the Government, despite all the hype around what is being done. In fact, I tried virtually every product on the market to give up smoking—even hypnosis—and the only one that eventually made me give up was heated tobacco. That product, however, is not included in the Bill as a cessation tool. Instead, its sale to young people is to be banned. Even the Kiwis recognised what a great cessation tool it is and did not include it in their ban. Instead, they put it in their arsenal of tools and recognised its benefits for cessation. In Japan, where 18.6 million people smoke, 25% of ex-smokers quit using heated tobacco, and Japan is already seeing the health benefits through its health system.

Similarly, more than half of the ex-smokers in the country with the lowest smoking rate in the world, Sweden, have quit using something called snus, which is already banned here in the UK. Ironically, the Government have put all their eggs into the vaping scene for cessation but 30% of those people who vape still smoke cigarettes. Not only that, but although Public Health England refers to alternative nicotine delivery devices, such as vaping products, the Bill does not include heated tobacco, which is delivered via just such a device.

To summarise, the Bill is not cut out for the Government’s ambitions. It follows a failed model that was devised in New Zealand, which does not have the UK’s issue with illicit tobacco. We will depend on a morsel of cash going to an incredibly stretched trading standards, which is operating on a budget that is half what it was 15 years ago, to police and enforce the policies in the Bill. The legislation underestimates the scale of the illicit tobacco trade already in the UK and will promote it even more in future. It also fails to promote cessation to the current 6.4 million smokers in the UK, and fails to recognise the many more products for people to use to quit that are better than cigarettes, such as heated tobacco. It fails on every level.

Finally, if the Government, and indeed this House, were serious about stopping people smoking, why not just set an arbitrary date in the future when smoking, in respect of either partaking or selling, will be banned completely? That will give us time for serious investment in cessation and will also give a serious amount of time to invest in stopping the illegal gangs and smugglers.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I remind colleagues that if they go quite a long way over the guidance, it does mean that others will have less time to speak. The guidance was seven minutes.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 4:23, 16 April 2024

I draw attention to my role as a vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, an APPG that supports this Bill and in particular the commitment to creating a smoke-free generation by raising the age of sale for tobacco. This will be the most impactful public health intervention since the introduction of smoke-free legislation under the last Labour Government. The Bill is particularly welcome after years of Government inaction on tobacco, which has put us well behind schedule for achieving the Smokefree 2030 ambition. According to Cancer Research UK, we are currently not on track to be smoke free until 2039, which is almost a decade later than planned, and it will be even later for the most deprived.

I welcome the new funding committed to local tobacco control activity and national mass-media campaigns, which will go some way towards fixing the damage done by more than a decade of cuts to public health funding. Those cuts have fallen disproportionately on local stop-smoking services, which are a vital component of our strategy for reducing smoking rates. I am pleased that the Government have now recognised the importance of such services.

Since the legislation to raise the age of sale progressively by one year every year was announced, tobacco manufacturers have argued that it will be burdensome to business. They have also paid for advertising urging retailers to lobby against the legislation. Despite this, a survey by NEMS Market Research for ASH shows that more than half of a representative sample of retailers are supportive of such action, compared with only a quarter who are opposed.

Of course, the tobacco industry has form on trying to use retailers to lobby against tobacco laws. The Tobacco Retailers Alliance, a trade body 100% funded by tobacco manufacturers, funded the “save our shops” campaign against the display ban and the “no to plain packs” campaign against standardised cigarette packaging. Both campaigns used exactly the same argument now being used to campaign against raising the age of sale: that it will put a terrible burden on small businesses, that it will be impractical to implement and that it will increase illicit trade. Both campaigns were exposed as being fronts for the tobacco industry, and the subsequent legislation was successfully implemented by retailers. Indeed, a 2022 survey by NEMS Market Research for ASH found that the vast majority of small retailers report no negative impacts on their business due to the display ban or plain packs.

My region, the north-east, has been hit particularly hard by the tobacco epidemic, with 117,000 deaths from smoking since the turn of the century and thousands more added each year. That is not to mention the thousands more living with tobacco-related illnesses. As in every other region, this suffering is concentrated in the most deprived groups and areas. Although around 13% of adults in the north-east smoke, the figure rises to 21% of adults in routine and manual occupations, 28% of adults in social housing and 41% of adults with serious mental health conditions.

In the north-east, we are fortunate to benefit from the incredible work of our regional tobacco control programme. Fresh was set up in 2005 in response to our region having the country’s highest smoking rates. As a result of dedicated and sustained collaboration and investment from local authorities and the NHS, smoking rates have fallen further and faster in the north-east than anywhere else in the country—13.1% of the adult population now smokes, compared with 29% less than 20 years ago. The north-east is a prime example of what can be achieved with an effective regional tobacco control programme. Fresh is now funded by both the local authorities and the integrated care board, and that regional funding model is repeated in Greater Manchester. I encourage other regions to follow suit.

Children are especially vulnerable to second-hand smoke, which greatly increases their chance of developing a host of illnesses. The Royal College of Physicians has estimated that smoking by parents and carers is responsible for around 5,000 children being admitted to hospital each year, primarily with respiratory conditions. That is why I tabled a private Member’s Bill in 2011, aided by the British Lung Foundation, to ban smoking in cars carrying children. Despite the strong public health case for the measure, it was not initially welcomed by the Government or the Opposition, and it took a long, hard campaign to get it over the line. Four years later, in 2015, legislation banning smoking in cars carrying children was put on the statute book with strong cross-party and public support.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

How many times has that offence been prosecuted?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

That is an interesting question. There have been only a handful of prosecutions because the legislation has played an important role in people changing their behaviour. YouGov’s 2008 polling for ASH found that banning smoking in cars was supported by less than half of all smokers. The proportion had risen to 62% by the time of my private Member’s Bill, and to 82% after the ban came into effect. The lesson to be learned is that support has grown significantly over time for the tougher regulation of tobacco. After measures have been put in place, support continues to grow, particularly among smokers. We have come a long way in our attitudes to smoking since I became an MP in 2010. I have enjoyed campaigning on the issue, but I look forward to the Bill becoming law before I step down. Not only will the legislation prevent future generations from acquiring this terrible addiction; it offers the most direct path to making smoking truly obsolete in our society.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Conservative, Windsor 4:30, 16 April 2024

I would like to point out three things at the outset. First, I used to be a smoker. I was probably one of the earliest adopters of vaping in the UK—certainly I was among them. Secondly, I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group for responsible vaping, whose chair will doubtless speak today. Thirdly, I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I chair an advisory board to a company that may or may not be doing vapes.

Here in the UK, we have been incredibly successful in our smoking cessation policies thus far. In fact, we are the envy of the world with our rates of smoking cessation. Yes, we are behind target, and yes, according to the Khan review, we might not hit the 2030 mark, but we have been incredibly successful. I have travelled around the world talking about our success. People ask how we have done it, and I explain that the industry did it: it came up with a fantastic device called a vape. Initially it was all a bit dodgy and shaky; people were mixing liquids in Manchester in their baths and it was all very complicated. We got a grip on it, now there is regulation, and provided people are vaping legally, it is safe and usable. Millions of smokers have stopped smoking by using vaping devices. It is a huge success story.

The thing that makes me smile the most is the number of children who smoke. Back in 1982, 13% of 11 to 15-year-olds—secondary-school kids—smoked. I remember it, as I was around then—many of us remember it—and everyone used to smoke behind the bike sheds. In 2003, 9% smoked, which was good progress. By 2010, only 5% of schoolchildren smoked. Today, only 1% of schoolchildren smoke. That is a record of success. It is not a huge disaster that suddenly needs a radical change of policy to resolve the issue. In my view, it merely requires upping the ante on enforcement and messaging, rather than a draconian approach.

I welcome the Bill in two ways. First, the measures on vaping are pretty strong and pretty good. Most Members would agree that we need to look at packaging so that it is not marketed to children, and we need to look at flavours. We do not need to look at the flavours themselves; I urge the Secretary of State to look at the descriptors in the relevant part of the Bill rather than the flavours themselves as a regulatory issue. It does not matter to a smoker who wishes to quit whether the flavour is called blueberry or anything else. All that matters is that the flavour exists. It does not matter if it has a reference number and a plain package. What matters is that the flavour exists—for example, mango, which was used by my hon. Friend Mark Eastwood; I tended to use blueberry—to encourage smokers to shift, but it does not necessarily need to be named on the pack, which could be marketed to children.

There is another key issue on the vaping measures in the Bill. It is unbelievable, but the entire tobacco industry is ready to open its chequebook to pay for Trading Standards and enforcement. The entire vaping industry, including vaping associations and retailers, is ready to say, “We don’t want these cowboys in the industry. We want to drive them out as much as you, because they give us a bad name and it encourages nanny-state politicians to meddle and interfere, stopping us doing our lawful trade.” A vast sum of money is available from the industry to be used by the Government, hopefully directly through Trading Standards, so that Trading Standards does not just have a few million here and there but has hundreds of millions of pounds and hundreds of new staff who can do their job and drive the cowboys out of the industry, and we can ensure that we see an end to all the practices that have been mentioned today.

Bans do not work. I am not going to make a high-principled speech about freedom, but frankly bans do not work. Bhutan and Malaysia tried it, but it did not work. Australia got close to doing it with some very complicated legislation, but it did not work. Guess what? Smoking rates went up, including smoking rates among kids. New Zealand had a really good stab at it, and then said, “Nah, it’s unconstitutional and it’s probably not going to work as well.” Bans do not work, so the idea that we, in the United Kingdom, would now be at the vanguard of that is ridiculous.

For goodness’ sake, our policy as it stands is working. We just need to do it faster, make more money available for enforcement and get on with changing the descriptors to ensure fewer people are smoking, particularly our children. Nobody wants our children to smoke. Nobody wants people to die. The false argument I have heard today that anybody who does not agree with the generational ban is somehow evil and wants people to die really upsets me. We should not resort to that sort of language.

The main reason why I cannot support the Bill is the generational smoking ban. I would perfectly happily support the rest of the Bill, but I really cannot support that ban. If the Government had been bold enough to say, “Right, we are going to ban smoking below the age of 21”, I would have had huge reluctance but I would have said, “Yeah, fair enough.” Why? Because we would have been treating people the same. The Bill is making a huge constitutional change by saying that two adults will not be treated the same. It is inequality under the law. Even in Malaysia, their Attorney General said, “We can’t do that”, and they are not nearly as civilised as we are here. Several other countries have come to the same conclusion.

I do not know how we have got into this state. It is so unnecessary. There are so many more important things to be doing in the world at the moment, yet now we are in this place. If this Bill somehow gets through with Labour’s support—of course, Labour always love bans; I get that and that is fine. Forgive me for being political, but it is ridiculous to have our Prime Minister, who has enough things to deal with, putting through a Bill, with Labour’s support. Why on earth do that at this stage?

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. Surely this should be something that should evolve? As he has highlighted, the statistics show that very few young people now smoke, so we should let things gradually evolve rather than impose them. After the New Zealand example, is it not clear that a ban simply will not work?

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Conservative, Windsor

I could not agree more.

To conclude, I cannot vote for a Bill that treats adults unequally in law. The Bill creates a precedent in the United Kingdom of treating people differently—adult human beings; citizens—and of inequality under the law. I cannot support that. We are making a huge political mistake. I hope that even at this late stage we can make some amendments or change the way the legislation works. We could at least say that there is a condition—that we will bring the Bill into law, but that it can be enacted by a future Government only if smoking rates are not, for argument’s sake, below 3% by 2035. In that way we have the political win—we have got the Bill though and it is legislation—but the measures are not actually enacted.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I have nothing against interventions, but I suggest that if colleagues take interventions, they should still stick to the guidelines.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 4:38, 16 April 2024

I rise to speak in support of this important Bill. Smoking is entirely harmful and there are no benefits. Cancer Research UK is clear that tobacco remains the single biggest cause of cancer in the UK, causing an estimated 125,000 deaths per year—one person every five minutes. On average, smokers lose 10 years of their life expectancy and face lifelong health complications.

Despite the protestations of tobacco companies, smoking also has a detrimental effect on our economy. Action on Smoking and Health estimates that the overall cost of productivity losses and health and care needs caused by smoking costs the UK a staggering £17.3 billion every year.

We have come a long way in recent decades in reducing smoking rates. The last Labour Government led the way on smoking harms, raising the legal smoking age to 18, banning cigarette advertising in shops and introducing the transformative ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces and workplaces. It is now hard to recall just how society ever thought that smoke-filled restaurants, pubs and tube carriages were remotely acceptable.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I will not give way at this stage, I am afraid.

It is still the case that more than one in 10 adults—around 6.4 million people—are smokers. I wish to pay tribute to my constituent, Gower Tan. Gower began to smoke at the age of 13. His father was also a lifelong smoker and died early at the age of just 66 from lung cancer. This was devastating for Gower and his family and led him to give up smoking at the age of 40. Gower has since become a tireless campaigner for Cancer Research UK—first as an ambassador and more recently as part of the staff team. Gower and his family know as well as anyone the pain and heartache that smoking can cause and the deep sorrow that comes from knowing that the death of a loved one was preventable.

Like my hon. Friend, the shadow Secretary of State, I fully support the Bill’s measures to ban smoking for anyone born after 2009, freeing future generations from the health impacts of tobacco. I also welcome the Bill’s urgently needed measures to regulate advertising and restrict the availability of vapes to children and teenagers. We on the Labour Benches have been calling for action on this for a long time. Last year, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the advertising of vapes to children. One in five 11 to 15-year-olds in England used vapes in 2021, and under-age vaping has dramatically increased by 50% in the past three years. Five years ago, vaping was not a significant concern, but now it is raised with me in every school that I visit. Teachers are routinely having to manage the disruption in the classroom that addiction causes.

Vaping has a really important role in smoking cessation and that role should not be undermined by this legislation, but although vaping is far less harmful than smoking, it is not a harmless activity. Last year, 40 children were admitted to hospital with vaping-related issues. There is evidence of respiratory harm and impacts on mental health and concentration levels.

We can see the strategy of the vaping companies. They are seeking to secure future demand for their products by getting children addicted today. It is frankly absurd for e-cigarette manufacturers to claim that they are not targeting children. In displays across the country, brightly coloured advertising for vapes mimic popular brands and characters. Flavours such as gummy bears, skittles, tutti-frutti and cherry cola are clearly designed to appeal to children and vapes are being openly promoted to children on social media.

Although I support the Bill today, it would be remiss of me not to ask what has taken the Government so long. They have had repeated opportunities to introduce new regulations on the marketing of vapes. My hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy put forward an amendment in November 2021 to the Health and Care Bill to ban the branding of vapes that appeal to children, while the Electronic Cigarettes (Branding, Promotion and Advertising) Bill introduced last year would have banned e-cigarettes and vaping products from being advertised to appeal directly to children. These delays will have led to more children experimenting with e-cigarettes and becoming addicted to recreational vaping.

Today, we have a genuine opportunity to stops the harm of nicotine addiction and free future generations from the health impacts of smoking. We on the Labour Benches are clear that we will put the health of children and young people first. A Government who cannot command the support of their own MPs for a flagship piece of legislation should surely step aside, call a general election and allow someone else to do the job.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 4:43, 16 April 2024

I wish to declare almost an opposite interest: I have never smoked a cigarette or a cigar in my life. I have never even put one to my very lips, yet I am against the Bill. That is not because I have any vested interest in the tobacco lobby or because I am a smoker or an ex-smoker; it is because I am a lover of freedom, a lover of choice and a lover of information. To me, that is vital.

I am neither one of the older Members nor one of the younger Members of the House, but I remember that throughout my time at school the evils of smoking were drummed into us. I do not think that any Member of the House, or any person in this country, does not know the evil of smoking, including health degradation and damage to lives and families, because it is drummed in every single step of the way—as I think it should be, because smoking is wrong.

I do not like smoking, and I wish people would not do it, but if we believe in freedom of speech, independence of mind and people making informed choices, we should let people do what they want as long as they have the facts before them—and we do provide the facts. The NHS stop-smoking policies have done an amazing job over the past few decades of ensuring that everyone knows the facts, so no one can say when they start smoking or vaping that they do not know the full implications of what they are doing—they do. We know that they do because, as has already been said, the number of young people smoking has absolutely collapsed over the past few decades. My hon. Friend Adam Afriyie correctly mentioned that only 1% of schoolchildren smoke. That 1% statistic is terrible and represents far too many children, but compared to what it was, it is really good news.

As I said in my earlier interventions, children generally do not smoke anymore, so that is not where the battle is. I believe that the battle against smoking has been won—we are just fighting the last rearguard action—which is why I think the Bill is fundamentally wrong. It is fighting yesterday’s wars, not tomorrow’s wars. The vaping aspect is incredibly important and is what we must focus on. We and the Government need to focus our attention on super-strength vapes and marketing to children. That is incredibly important, and I am glad that the Bill goes some way towards rectifying that. The ban on the free distribution of vaping products to under-18s is also great news.

However, we are dividing our time between that and focusing on a dying industry in a bizarrely puritanical way by stamping out some people’s choice and freedom. Who is to say that, in a few years’ time, a 21-year-old cannot celebrate their graduation with a cigar? If they want to, why not? Why shouldn’t someone celebrate the birth of a child with a cigar, or maybe with a pinch of snuff? Who are we to say that that is not their choice to make? Who are we to say, “You shouldn’t celebrate in this way”?

I have many vices, Madam Deputy Speaker. I like a glass of beer or a pint of wine every now and again. I know in my heart of hearts that they are wrong for me and probably limit my health, but I drink them. I eat burgers and chips, accepting that they are fundamentally life-shortening. But do they make my life better? Do I enjoy doing it? Yes, and I do so in the full knowledge of what I am doing. This is the crux of the matter: we are talking now about cigarettes, cigars, snuff or shisha, but what is to stop us from saying tomorrow or the next day that burgers, red wine and all the little things that people sometimes enjoy in moderation—that make life worth living—are bad for them? Sometimes people want that bit of enjoyment, but we sit here and say, “No, you cannot have that choice; we know better and we are taking that choice away from you.”

As long as everyone has the knowledge about what tobacco products do, we should give them the choice—that is terribly important. I am also confused by the fact that, once again, we are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut by banning all tobacco products. How many people in this country do snuff, say? Not many, so why are we impinging on their liberty? There is not an epidemic of children taking snuff at school, so why are we banning it? Snuff does not represent a massive health risk or have a huge impact on the NHS, yet we are banning it—that is crazy. We are banning things that are not having a huge impact on the economy or the health of our nation, and that concerns me greatly.

A country that has gone through this process is New Zealand, which banned tobacco sales. However, it then overturned the ban. If the policy was such a success, why did New Zealand not double down on it and go further? My biggest issue with the measure is the rolling age of consent, which is fundamentally discriminatory. Adults are adults, and they make their own choices and own their failures. A 28-year-old does not know better than a 29-year-old; someone of 18 years and one day does not know any better than someone of 17 years and 364 days. We are creating cases in which people are unequal before the law, and that is wrong.

Also, let us not kid ourselves: we know that having a rolling age of consent is completely impractical and unworkable, and it will have to be got rid of. Let us be honest: we are not going to have a situation in 10 or 20 years’ time where a 34-year-old is ID’d at a tobacconist or a newsagents and told, “You look 33, sir.” “Oh, thank you very much for flattering me.” It is going to be banned outright, and we know that. This is the thin end of the wedge. It will create inequality in the law, cut down on freedoms and fundamentally make life that bit harder for everyone.

Many years ago, as has been described, this place was a bastion of puritanism. There were so many roundheads fighting the King many years ago in the civil war, but I say that at the moment there are too many roundheads in this Parliament—too many naysayers, too many people banning things. What we need is a few more cavaliers: a few more people trying to enjoy bits of life while making informed choices. For that reason, I oppose the Bill, although it does contain some good bits about vaping. We should be fighting the next battle, which is fully against vapes, rather than wasting our time fighting yesterday’s battles.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:50, 16 April 2024

I would like to start with some figures from my local authority area and my constituency. Smoking prevalence is currently 9.9% in my constituency—that is 6,600 people who are smoking. The total cost of smoking to the constituency is estimated at £73.2 million: a productivity loss of £42 million, social care costs of £28 million, and healthcare costs of £2.9 million. The constituency spends £22.4 million on tobacco annually, and the average smoker spends £3,000 a year on tobacco.

Across Gateshead, the rate of smoking during pregnancy was 10.9% in 2022-23, compared with 8.8% nationally. The smoking rate among adults in different occupations showed that the more deprived areas were smoking more than those in other areas—as always, deprivation comes into these things. There were 688 lung cancer registrations between 2017 and 2019, and we know that smoking causes more than seven in 10 lung cancer cases. In 2019-20 there were 2,707 smoking-attributable hospital admissions in Gateshead. There were 825 emergency hospital admissions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and we know that smoking is a key determinant of COPD cases. As such, I welcome the measures in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which will take us one step closer to a smoke-free future, and I am pleased to see that my party has pledged to support those efforts.

Creating a smoke-free generation will radically level up the health and wealth of our nation, especially in regions such as the north-east. The north-east has traditionally had a higher prevalence of smoking than the rest of the country, although we have made very significant gains in narrowing that gap thanks to the tireless efforts of local councils and NHS trusts working together, not to mention Fresh, our brilliant regional tobacco control programme. Despite that progress, though, our communities still suffer terribly as a result of smoking. As I have said, in 2019-20 there were over 2,700 smoking-attributable hospital admissions in Gateshead—where my constituency is based—and 825 emergency hospital admissions for COPD. Between 2017 and 2019 there were just over 1,000 deaths resulting from smoking in Gateshead alone. Ending smoking for the next generation will safeguard them from the suffering that has afflicted previous generations.

However, we need to do much more to ensure that smokers in the most deprived groups are not left behind as we move towards a smoke-free future. The disparity between different groups is even more extreme for people with mental health conditions, with smoking rates as high as 26% for those with depression and anxiety, compared with 14% of the general population. Calculations by Action on Smoking and Health show that at the current rate of decline, smokers with a mental health condition will not achieve smoke-free status until after 2050, around 20 years later than those without a mental health condition. This Bill is a major step in the right direction and will have a profound positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the next generation, but we must go further to tackle the health inequalities that continue to afflict the most disadvantaged in our communities.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw 4:54, 16 April 2024

I believe it is a noble cause to encourage people to give up smoking or not to take it up in the first place, because we know that smoking is a very unhealthy habit and it is very costly, so I do appreciate the good intentions behind the Bill. There are some things in the Bill that I do agree with, but unfortunately I cannot support it, and I am going to outline why. It is basically about trusting adults to make their own decisions in life and to choose their own approach. I believe that should be our approach, and there have been some very good contributions so far on why that should be the case. Of course, all societies have rules and we have to live by them, but I believe that these rules are unnecessary.

This legislation will not stop children from smoking per se. It is aimed at them once they reach adult life. That takes me back to when I was a teenager, and I remember an elderly lady on one of the tills at a local supermarket used to accept seeing a set of car keys as an acceptable form of ID. Unsurprisingly, a lot of my friends started to own a set of car keys many years before they owned cars. However, I think we all appreciate the importance of preventing under-age sales. We need the robust enforcement of that, and of course prevention of the illegal tobacco trade, which not only deprives the Treasury of funds but can put people at risk of some very dangerous products. The same applies to vapes, and I have been working with the authorities locally to clamp down on places that sell them. I remember that once upon a time it was the pupils who hid behind the bike sheds to smoke, and then I remember as a teacher that, after the ban came in, which included staffrooms, it would normally be the teachers hiding there and trying to cadge a cigarette.

Labour Members have mentioned some of the previous bans that have come in and some of the actions the Labour Government took. I am old enough to remember when the ban on tobacco advertising came in, and there was of course an exemption for Formula 1. We have spoken a lot about vested interests. The boss of Formula 1 was of course a major Labour donor at the time, and it did secure that exemption. I would ask them whether they believe it was right to take its cash, and whether it was right to give that exemption. I would be very interested to hear the shadow Health Minister’s view on that later.

To take the point made by my right hon. Friend Craig Whittaker, would a cut-off date for all cigarettes or smoking be easier to enforce than the current proposal, and why should some adults have fewer rights than others? We must also appreciate the role of vaping. As has been pointed out, Sweden is a world leader in this. It is down to 5.6%, and when a country gets down to the 5% target it is classed as smoke free. Yes, it used things such as snus, which was outlawed throughout the rest of the European Union. It had special exemptions, and I believe an opportunity has been missed over the years to use that to cut down on the number of smokers, but vaping has of course provided a highly effective alternative.

However, a principle is at stake today, and what I really want to speak about is the principle of one group of adults having rights that are different from those of other sets of adults. We can compare this to the right to vote over the years, whether under the Representation of the People Act 1918 or the further Act in 1928. Going back to 1884, 40% of men, mainly the poorest in society, did not have the right to vote. Later, when the vote was extended to all men over 21, women could vote only if they were over the age of 30, or if they or their husband had land with a rateable value of £5 or more. It was not until 1969 that the voting age was lowered to 18. I remember being elected as a councillor in Nottingham at the young age of 22, and it was not until 2006 that the age limit for that was changed to 18. Again, there were adults at that time who had different rights.

People have been treated differently on the basis of their religion over the years, such as whether they were a Catholic or a Protestant in the 1600s. We have had the Race Relations Act 1965, where we outlawed people being treated differently on the grounds of their colour, race or national origin. Then we had equal marriage, of which we have just celebrated 10 years, another example of where adults are equal before the law, to love who they wish and marry who they wish. I believe we are moving towards freedom, and that is a good thing: it is about giving more rights and more equality, not restricting it. The point is that the direction of travel has been about giving adults, whatever their background, the right to live their lives within the law as they wish so long as they are not impinging on the rights of others. That is the right direction, and the right thing to do. As Margaret Thatcher once said,

“when people are free to choose they choose freedom”.

But what next? A ban on alcohol, or a ban on takeaways? I declare an interest in both of those, but both of them are bad for us when not done responsibly. But we are adults, and these are our choices; these are not the state’s choices. We need to get back to trusting adults to make their own decisions in life. I do not like banning things as a rule—yes, there are always cases that we can make, but I do not believe the case has been made here yet.

We have already witnessed other nations dumping this idea, including New Zealand, and I do not believe the legislation in its current form will pass the test of time. I believe it is unenforceable. I absolutely support the intention to move towards a smoke-free generation, but I believe there is a better way, and that is why I will be voting against the Bill.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 5:01, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to be called in this debate, although I confess it is one that has depressed me, because this is fundamentally illiberal legislation. If I am in the House for any reason it is because I believe in liberalism—in the ability of people to make better choices for themselves than can the state.

It strikes me that we are witnessing an encroaching tide whereby ever more of our liberties are taken away from us—the speech by my right hon. Friend Sir Jake Berry was very good on that. We are fortunate in Britain to live in a country where we do not get our rights from the state; we have them inalienably from birth, and it is only the things that we proactively proscribe that we cannot do, but we are adding more and more things to that list.

I say that as someone who is totally clear that smoking is a terrible idea, and I would not recommend it to any young person. I have spent a lot of time with Mr Jonathan Ferguson at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and have seen the pioneering work he has done on lung cancer. It is absolutely crystal clear that smoking damages your health and damages your wealth and is an antisocial habit in so many ways, but—and it is a big but—I do not believe it is my right to tell my fellow citizens that they cannot do it, any more than it is their right to tell me that I cannot have a glass of red wine with dinner. These are not things that the state ought sensibly to be proscribing.

I actually think we have reached a relatively sensible point with regard to smoking legislation. Not allowing smoking in public places where it can impinge on others is very reasonable and sensible, and I do not think anyone would want to go back to the situation before the 2006 legislation. However, whether we smoke at all in private should be up to us, not the state. We risk creating a huge philosophical as well as practical problem, which will undoubtedly lead to further rights creep as the years go by, because it is likely that the health lobby—the interventionist lobby, as the shadow Secretary of State put it in his speech—will use this as a logic to allow them to move into other fields, and what will our ability then be to resist that argument if we have conceded it here today? So there is a profound philosophical problem with this.

I also believe that it will in practice be a nightmare for shop workers up and down the country to be asked to enforce this. It will place them in an invidious position, which is likely to lead either to them facing real trouble in their shops or, frankly, to them passing the buck and ignoring the law, and making a mockery of its existing at all.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

On the “what next?” point, when I was Public Health Minister, we brought in the sugar tax with the soft drinks industry levy. That encouraged the industry to reformulate drinks and took quite a lot of sugar out as a result, because industry followed that trend. If we reformulated processed food to take a lot of salt out and saved a lot of lives from stroke, would that be a good or a bad thing?

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

That would arguably be perfectly sensible, but it is different from a ban. The point is about the degree of harm. I strongly support the ban on illegal drugs, but I do so because cocaine, heroin and the like wreck lives and destroy communities. Tobacco does not do that, but we already have enough difficulty enforcing the existing bans that we have in place, which already stretch our resources to the utmost. Frankly, as we all know, we all too often fail to enforce those bans. Adding a new ban risks creating something that will be unworkable from the outset, while creating a huge black market in which criminal enterprise will thrive. Meanwhile, the state will have forgone the tax revenues—some £10 billion or £11 billion a year—that are ploughed back into our public services, including the health service, to combat the effects of smoking. That revenue simply will not be there anymore. We will likely still have people smoking, but we will have offset many of the revenue streams that allow us to combat it.

I simply do not understand how a Conservative Prime Minister thought it appropriate to bring forward legislation that is the opposite of why we are sent to this House, which is to defend and uphold the principle of individual choice and individual liberty. As we have heard, where this legislation has been introduced, it has already been repealed, as in New Zealand. I fear that in this country we will face a choice in the years ahead: either eventual repeal because the legislation does not work or, as my hon. Friend Alexander Stafford said, an outright ban, because of the sheer unworkability of trying to ascertain in practice whether the person in front of you in the queue is aged 39 or 40. We will doubtless simply see a Labour Government move towards an outright ban to make the situation simpler, tidier and neater. That would be a real red line, but we would have forgone the ability to make the principal case against it.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

My right hon. Friend says that drugs destroy lives, but tobacco does not. What about the people who are dying from emphysema and long-term lung cancer? Many families in the United Kingdom are seeing their relatives die a long, lingering death as a result of using tobacco.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

With respect to my hon. Friend, I said that those drugs destroy communities. There is a profound difference. The ripple effect of illegal drugs is to prompt real social harm to others, because those habits are so destructive that people steal and rob to fund them. Tobacco does not do that. It is obviously extremely bad for people, but it does not drive patterns of behaviour as destructive as those associated with crime. That is a fundamental difference, and it is why we should focus our efforts on stopping those trades, rather than on banning something that has been legal for hundreds of years. We all recognise it carries real medical harms, but it is not, I submit, our job to try to take it away from people. We should rely on education and the tax system, but we should not rely on legislation to tell other people what to do when they are grown adults in a free country.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:08, 16 April 2024

I rise in support of the Government’s Bill. One of the first speakers this afternoon was my hon. Friend Dr Evans, who talked about his first job in respiratory medicine. My first job as a doctor was in adult respiratory medicine, too, and I spent a lot of time looking after patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, intermittent claudication and lung cancer, and that taught me that smoking causes not just premature death, but substantial, debilitating, miserable disability that can go on for many years. I therefore support the Government in doing all they can to reduce the number of smokers.

Some people have talked today about the freedom for an adult to choose to do what they want, but we already make changes to what adults can do. We already restrict their freedoms. For example, we tell adults that they must put a seatbelt on when they get in the car. They must wear a helmet when they ride a motorcycle. They cannot drink alcohol before they get in a car, and they cannot drive down the motorway at 150 mph. So we already make restrictions for people’s safety on that basis.

I do think that gradually increasing the age is inelegant, as my hon. Friend Steve Brine, the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, put it, and will be challenging to enforce. But the alternative—to ban smoking outright—would be difficult, because it is an addictive substance. If we banned an addictive substance overnight, we would criminalise those already addicted. By doing it in advance and gradually increasing the age, we will instead not criminalise people for being addicted, because they will not get addicted in the first place, at least in principle.

I want to focus most of my remarks on vaping. I have been campaigning on vaping for some time, because I am concerned about the snowballing number of children who are addicted to it. Indeed, last year I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to try to ban disposable vapes, which have been the most attractive vapes to children and cause the most environmental damage. At the time, 1.3 million vapes a week were being used—it is now up to 5 million. They are almost impossible to recycle in practice because the lithium batteries are difficult to recycle, and the nicotine gets soaked into the plastic, which makes that difficult to recycle as well.

I understand the need for adults to have something to help them stop smoking, but vapes are not just a stop-smoking device; we should look at them as an alternative addiction. Earlier in my campaigning, when I spoke to the industry, I said, “What is it with all these flavours?” I was told, “Well, the thing is, if someone tries to stop smoking using nicotine gum, they use the nicotine gum—or something—as a stop-smoking device. So they go from smoking, to gum, to nothing. If we give them vapes that taste of tobacco or are bland, they go from smoking, to vaping, to nothing. If we give them cherry cola-flavoured vapes, they go from smoking, to vaping cherry cola, to vaping mango and to vaping blueberry. They remain one of our customers and continue to use our product.” The industry is trying to create a new generation of addicts to make itself billions of pounds.

I can understand why the industry wants to make the money, but the way it is doing so is, in my view, immoral. In particular, its marketing of these things at children is immoral. A grown-up may wish to have a cherry cola-flavoured vape, but he or she does not need to have a unicorn milkshake-flavoured cherry vape shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants. That is why the flavours are important, and I welcome the Government’s measures to deal with flavours, colours, shapes and packaging.

What are the risks of vaping? As others have said, education is really important on that. For our children, in the short term, its powerful addiction causes problems with concentration, with some having to leave lessons because they cannot cope until the end of a double lesson without vaping. In some cases, as we have heard, it causes chest symptoms and can cause collapse. In the long term, the simple answer is that we just do not know.

A recent University College London study showed that DNA methylation—modification of DNA—occurs in people who vape. Does that show that vaping causes cancer? No, it does not. Time will tell us that, but it suggests at least that it might. That is why we must be extremely careful with our children. Adolescents will always experiment with substances because it is in the nature of adolescence to experiment with boundaries, but we need to ensure that we take as much care of them as we possibly can.

In particular, I welcome clause 10, which will allow the provisions to be extended to other nicotine products. The industry is making billions of pounds, and it will continue trying to flex to try to keep people addicted to nicotine. We can see that today. A search on the internet shows that Tesco is selling 20 nicotine pouches for £6.50. Those tiny pouches of up to 12 mg of nicotine—about 10 cigarettes-worth—are placed under a person’s gums and will release those 10 cigarettes of nicotine over an hour. They are sold in flavours called “Ice Cool”, Bergamot Wildberry”, “Mocha” and “Elderflower”. Does the House see a pattern here? That will be the next thing, and that is why I welcome the clause, which will allow the Government to reflect, if they want, on new forms of nicotine use.

I have some questions for the Minister. The Health Act 2006 prevents smoking in enclosed public spaces, on public transport and in certain other areas. Why has that not been extended to vaping? Also, as I was walking through Westminster the other day, I saw a big red Transport for London bus advertising vaping—something I have written to Sadiq Khan about. I wonder whether the Government plan to extend vaping regulations not just to what the package looks like but to the advertising itself.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I will not, because I have only a minute left.

Rachael Maskell mentioned the advertising at Blackburn Rovers; again, sports advertising while children are watching is not helpful.

I have a final question for the Minister. Given that this is urgent, we are seeing so many children starting vaping and we want to stop people smoking as soon as possible, why are we waiting to bring in the regulations? Why not bring them in to affect children more quickly?

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton 5:15, 16 April 2024

Like my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie, I was a smoker for many a year. I gave up some 30 years ago and, as I said in an earlier intervention, it was one of the hardest things I ever did. I wish to God that vaping had been available to me then to help me off what would now be a £45-a-day habit. I certainly disagree that people do not steal to support such a habit, as it is extraordinarily expensive.

As we all know, banning things tends to drive things underground. As far as I have heard, no one has mentioned the prohibition of alcohol in America and what that led to. I consider myself a libertarian Conservative, and I think that the best Government should interfere in the market the least, and spend our taxpayers’ money only when they really need to. As always, the growth of the state is little more than good news for bureaucrats. No one in Clacton has ever looked at issues locally and told me that the solution was new taxes and over-convoluted legislation.

However, this is about not dogmas but practicality. It is about not ideology but pragmatism, science and economics. There are a number of measures in the Bill that I support. The banning of disposable vapes seems timely, given the ecological damage they cause, going to landfill and being strewn across our streets in countless millions. Revisiting the legal age of vaping and smoking seems to be a logical response to the worrying fact of under-age people navigating their way towards addiction through vapes. I am pleased that the Government have listened to me on the subject of nicotine pouches, which my hon. Friend Dr Johnson mentioned.

Let us consider what the science of public health and the recent economic facts have taught us: vapes are cheap, available and attractive to many. That is why smoking has dramatically decreased. The recent tax on vape liquid may be regressive if vaping costs start to gain parity with normal cigarettes. The free market has done its job and has given the public a cheaper and healthier alternative. I would be deeply worried about the unintended consequences of monkeying around with that.

We also need to step out of this place and consider what works on the ground. No one currently needs a licence from their local authority to sell vapes or nicotine products. That means that trading standards teams are often a skeleton crew. Do we think a complex and incremental age-increasing ban is enforceable with such weak enforcement? It is not. I do not buy the argument that we pay for expanded teams via increased fines. We do not increase staff headcount based on speculative, one-off cash injections from fines. If we want to clamp down on the very real issue of illegal cigarettes and the under-age sale of cigarettes and vapes, we need a licensing scheme that properly funds trading standards, rewarding responsible business owners and going after the villains.

I could support a ban on selling these products to those under 21, 18 or whatever. Such a ban could hit the Government’s laudable goal of killing off under-age consumption by getting the sale out of teenage years entirely. That is simple and impactful, and is preferable to a law that puts the shopkeeper in the firing line, having to interrogate people and turfing out the 22-year-old, while questioning the 24-year-old and supplying the 25-year-old. That is clearly nuts. I have spoken to retailers in Clacton, and the generational nature of the ban is quite frightening for many. To many it seems like a charter for confusion and confrontation. It also might criminalise people inadvertently.

There is a way forward. There are bold steps we can take with under-age addictions, without damaging the health advancements that the free market has allowed us to make. I believe that licensing is the answer.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip 5:19, 16 April 2024

Fifteen years of experience of leading and scrutinising complicated legislation tells me to be cautious with the Bill. I strongly admire its aims, but I have some questions to set out as to whether it will work.

With direct knowledge of cancer and deep commitment to cancer awareness, I want people to smoke less. As we have heard, smoking causes around one in four of all UK cancer deaths. Tobacco, especially cigarette smoking, is the single most important and, as we have heard, preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country. I agree with the Bill’s hope of reducing that suffering. I also desire the Bill’s aim to realise an economic saving on healthcare, named as more than £3 billion in the impact assessment, and a productivity gain of £24 billion over 30 years. My hon. Friend Steve Brine, the chair of the Health Committee, is right that we should be taking the long-term view and looking for the gains from prevention. For all that to be possible, however, the legislation has to work.

I am joining today’s debate—I shall keep it concise, Madam Deputy Speaker—because I care very much about politics and democracy working. As I stand down from Parliament this year, this is one of the final pieces of draft legislation for me and it is a significant proposition, so I will raise some points that are all intended to be thoughtful and are based on five terms of constituency work and ministerial experience in six Departments. In one of my past roles, I had to undo legislation that I had helped to implement, because it did not work.

The age-of-sale mechanism in the Bill is the untested thing. It would be the first of its kind in the world, but that accolade would come only because a few have tried and failed to carry support. The Bill as a whole has an imperfect evidence base—that is clear throughout its analysis, in particular because we do not yet have the full data picture about the effects of vaping—so what is in front of us today is inherently risky and theoretical. It is also possible that it may be divisive by asking one group of adults to live under rules different from those for another. I understand that the Malaysian equivalent was challenged on equality grounds and I would be really interested to know what lessons the Minister has drawn from that.

It is legitimate to be worried that something so novel may be unfair on retailers. The British Independent Retailers Association points out that the quite sophisticated enforcement needs of the mechanism fall on its members. As the Association of Convenience Stores adds, the

“proxy purchasing of any age-restricted products is extremely difficult for retailers to detect and prevent.”

Indeed, the deterrent in the Bill for proxy purchasing is just £50, if a person is caught and pays promptly. After my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s efforts at the latest Budget, that is actually only the cost of about three or four packets of cigarettes. I am therefore concerned that the design of the proxy-buying deterrents in the Bill could be fatally impractical for what is trying to be achieved. Let us put that in really super-practical terms. A person’s friend, a year older, may well be able to go into a shop or online and get two packets and let their friend have one, and the cost of their doing so adds up in the end to only three or four packets for themselves. We ought to give considerable thought to that.

The British Retail Consortium says that a better policy is needed on ID. I agree. I was surprised that the impact assessment says nothing about the impact of individuals needing to provide ID throughout their life, instead of just up to the age of adulthood. The document, of course, does deal with the costs to retailers of checking ID, but it is silent on the burden of asking a particular group of adults to have to prove their date of birth for life. I am talking about those who are or look, and would continue to be or to look, just above the age stated in the Bill. Healthy or unhealthy, right or wrong, they have every right to buy cigarettes and would remain in possession of that right, but they would have to prove it for life under the Bill.

When I took the Bill that became the Elections Act 2022 through the House, we were rightly questioned hard about the notion of asking adults to bring identification to polling stations. We acknowledged up front that not everyone holds a driving licence or a passport, and ensured that other forms of ID were available, given the importance of people’s democratic rights. This is a slightly different point and I am not making a direct comparison, but for the purposes of retail, free ID—for example, the CitizenCard—is already available. However, it needs to be renewed every few years, and a new requirement in the Bill means that it would need to be used for life. I think the Government should have more reassurances to give law-abiding people than silence.

I said that I strongly admired the aspiration of the Bill. For the sake of all those who are entangled in a lethal addiction, I would like to see smoking stop in this country, so I am not standing here on ideological grounds. I am making sensible points about whether the Bill is going to work. We have had—rightly—a wide-ranging, reflective and constructive debate, but good intentions and heroic ambitions are not enough. If we are to do something very novel and use the power of legislation to do it, we need to have confidence that the legislation is workable. I hope that my fellow legislators will rise to the challenges that are presented by this idea, and will scrutinise it carefully.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford 5:25, 16 April 2024

There is clearly a fair amount of agreement in the House about what we are trying to achieve. No one is suggesting that smoking is anything other than very bad for people’s health, and no one is suggesting that we should encourage anyone to smoke. We know that, for instance, it poses specific dangers to children. There is common ground—a common goal—when it comes to where we want to end up with the Bill. However, I believe that a generational ban is the wrong approach. There is a general assumption in the House that we ensure that laws apply equally to all adults, but the Bill turns that general assumption on its head by creating bizarre, absurd circumstances in which people will be unable to enjoy the same rights as others who are a day older than them.

No other country in the world has implemented such provisions. Many have considered doing so—New Zealand, Malaysia and Australia have been mentioned—but all of them have decided not to. Either they have all got it wrong and we have got it right, or that is not the case, and I doubt that it is the case. This is a classic instance of the “nanny knows best” approach to politics, which is incredibly patronising, and will be increasingly patronising, to adults.

One of the absurdities of what is, as I have said, an absurd piece of legislation has not been mentioned so far. The snuffbox by the Principal Doorkeeper’s chair is paid for by him, so that Members of Parliament who wish to partake of the snuff can do so. In future, any MP who enters the House, and who is currently 15 years old or younger, will not be able to do that; indeed, the Doorkeeper will be committing a criminal offence if he or she provides snuff for that MP.

We all want to reduce smoking rates, but this Bill is not the way to do it. The way to do it is through education and the provision of alternatives such as vapes. The Government’s “swap to stop” scheme was brilliant—thousands of people have given up smoking as a consequence of it—and many other Government initiatives have been tremendously effective in helping smokers to quit. I pay tribute to the Government for all those achievements, but we should nevertheless look at what is happening in other countries. It is a shame that my right hon. Friend Craig Whittaker is no longer in the Chamber. He mentioned Sweden, and it is because Sweden has been enthusiastic about allowing people alternatives to tobacco that it currently has the lowest smoking rate in the world and, moreover, the lowest rate of lung cancer in the world. It is not a coincidence. Although I accept that there are difficulties with making comparisons between different countries, Turkey and Indonesia, where smoking rates are increasing, are two of the countries that have completely banned vaping. In her opening speech, the Secretary of State rightly mentioned that the smoking rate among young people in Australia is currently going up. In Australia, vapes are banned—that is not a coincidence either.

Vaping helps adult smokers to quit and thereby saves lives. We all want the same thing: fewer smokers. In order to achieve that, we need to ensure that our legislation is flexible. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for agreeing that a consultation on flavours will take place, which is very important. I was going to table an amendment to make sure that that happened, but there is no necessity to do so now because of her commitment to the House. Flavours are important, because what often happens when smokers give up smoking and start vaping instead is that, a couple of weeks down the line, they get a bit fed up with the vaping they are carrying out, so they either go back to tobacco or switch to a different flavour. Therefore, having a variety of flavours is very important. I totally concede that having a zingy bubble gum flavour vape is wrong. We should not have any kind of marketing that makes vaping attractive to children, but we should have a choice for adult smokers who wish to switch to vaping.

We have two types of vaping going on in this country at the moment. First, there is the vaping that is being carried out by smokers who want to stop smoking, and who are vaping as a substitute for the tobacco they were previously consuming. Secondly, there is the other kind of vaping: children using it for fun. We need to tackle that robustly, but we do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

When carried out by adults, vaping saves lives and relieves the burden on the NHS. If we care about the NHS—I am sure that everybody in this Chamber does—allowing for vaping to take place as an alternative to smoking must be the right way. There is a danger that this House could send out a perception that vaping is just as bad as tobacco. If it does that, many people will think, “What’s the point in vaping? I might as well smoke instead if they are as bad as each other.” They are not as bad as each other. Vaping is considerably safer than consuming tobacco, although we do not want children who are non-smokers to take it up.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud 5:32, 16 April 2024

This is quite basic for me. I see the Bill as an opportunity to change the life chances and the life course of thousands of children in the Stroud district, with my two little girls included in the mix. It is not perfect, but it enhances the chance for their little lungs and healthy bodies to grow up to be strong adults.

Like many, I am intuitively against banning things and state interventions. I have concerns about the implementation, practicalities and enforcement of the Bill, but I am less interested in hearing colleagues slagging off each other to help sell books, and more interested in the really spirited debate we have had and in challenges from people such as my right hon. Friend Chloe Smith, because the amendments that could be tabled for forthcoming debates will help us.

At the heart of this legislation is this great Parliament using the knowledge and evidence that tobacco causes harm, which has built up over decades and decades. When we know that smoking cigarettes is addictive, expensive and limits life chances, particularly for the poorest, why should we accept the status quo and hope for a natural evolution? We know that smoking affects life opportunities and that youngsters are still smoking, despite everything we have done so far and those awful pictures on cigarette packs. When we know all of that, why would we not want to do more?

On the health of the nation, the NHS clearly needs reform. I know that politicians get shot down in flames for saying that, but it is the reality. The combination of an ageing population and the billions of pounds provided year after year in taxpayers’ cash, which is never enough, means that serious change is required. So, notwithstanding my concerns about this legislation, I view the measures in this Bill as part of a genuinely bold and preventive strategy that we have not seen before. This is from a Prime Minister who is known to be characteristically thoughtful and into the detail, the data and the evidence, so I applaud the PM for taking a battering on this in order to try to do the right thing and prevent known harms to children and to young people’s futures. Children in Stroud, in Gloucestershire and beyond will benefit from this Bill as they are growing up.

All six Gloucestershire MPs have the joy and benefit of meeting our health experts on a regular basis. They give us a hard time and we give them a hard time; they are rarely really happy with the Government on all bases, but they have told us that this policy is one of the most important public health interventions that any Government can make. The health experts also wrote to us to say that they wholeheartedly support the plan to create a smoke-free generation. They said:

“The legislation is needed, and proportionate. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable ill health and death and the major driver of differences between rich and poor…In Gloucestershire, the smoking prevalence in the most deprived quintile of the county is 22% and as many as over 30% of those in routine and manual employment”.

That is about 25,000 people in our little county. The doctors went on to say:

“Furthermore, smoking is the leading cause of 10-20 year reduction in life expectancy in people with serious mental illness, of whom 38% of those in our county are addicted to tobacco. Progression towards a smoke free future will significantly improve the health and well being of those currently in the most adverse circumstances, with nearly 26,000 tobacco dependent households in the county”.

A note to the self-proclaimed freedom fighters: we all love freedom, but addicts are not free. They have very limited choices. Two thirds of those who try smoking will go on to continue to smoke for the rest of their lives. That was my bit, by the way, about the freedom fighters. It was not our learned doctors who said that. They did, however, say:

“This legislation has the potential to avoid the 4,653 hospital admissions and 690 premature deaths in Gloucestershire which occur as a result of smoking. Whilst this is a novel policy, there is no reason to think it cannot be successfully implemented.”

I do not accept that the UK cannot implement the policy. They went on:

“The legislation will have a profound impact on society, as transformative as smokefree legislation was more than a decade ago. It is possible to conceive of a future where smoking no longer addicts and kills thousands of people every year.”

I would like to thank Dr Charlie Sharp, our former chief exec Deborah Lee, Dr Richard Makins, Sheema Rahman, Professor Mark Pietroni and the many others who gave me the most structured and sensible part of my speech. They know, because they see this stuff every day. My mum is a nurse, and she sees it. We can do this, so let us not talk this Parliament and this country down when it comes to implementing tricky things. I am looking forward to the next stages.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness 5:38, 16 April 2024

My dad used to smoke 60 John Player Specials a day. When he died in 2009, the last 20 years of his life had been blighted by heart attacks, by strokes and by dementia—the things that we know now, and we knew then, are exacerbated not by free human choice but by the fact that smoking is an addiction. Nobody chooses to smoke 60 cigarettes a day. Addiction forces them to do so, and it hits the poorest hardest. Tobacco ruins lives. Smoking takes away the rational, free, human choices that so many people in this Chamber have defended today. Defending smoking is not defending rational, free, human choices; it is defending addiction, which is the very opposite.

Every day when we come to this place, we should ask ourselves one question: how can I as a Member of Parliament, how can we as a Parliament and how can the Government do things that make the lives of our constituents better, healthier, happier, freer? Most of the time, I think that Parliament and the Government should get out of the way. There are even days when I think that what we can do most is not say anything. However, we have to ask ourselves: what are the things that government can do? There are some things that only government can do.

I will let you into a secret, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Ronald Reagan quote that

“The…most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” was a joke. Ronald Reagan was being slightly glib when he said that. The real most terrifying words in the English language might perhaps be that there is no government—that there is no operation above our individual choices to protect us, to give us security, and to fulfil the single most important function of government: security. Security in terms of health is just as important, because the Government exist to make people’s lives happier and healthier.

People might think that Governments are a necessary evil, or that they are a brilliant thing that can expand ever greater, but whatever we think, we do not improve people’s lives by getting out of the way all the time. Tobacco does not have some unique special status. We should ask ourselves why, as a Parliament, we have agreed that it is right to have speed limits, seatbelts and motorcycle helmets yet somehow people make a different argument for tobacco. That just does not make sense.

Some people will say that this Bill is not perfect, and they are right because nothing is, but if people vote against this Bill, or even abstain, they must demonstrate how it would make the current situation worse, and I cannot see a single example of how it would do so. Some might say that it makes some shops unviable; well, if the viability of a business depends on tobacco, I do not think that it is good for this country for that to be a viable business. Some will say that it fuels the black market. That does not seem to me to be an argument at all. We do not legalise crime for fear of it being driven underground; we in the Conservative party put 20,000 extra police officers on the streets. We fund what we need to do to tackle it.

Many have said that the problem is a 34-year-old in a shop being told, “I am terribly sorry, but you’re not 35.” The reality of this approach, and why it is the right approach, is that by the time today’s 14, 15 or 16-year-olds are 34 or 35, it simply will not be viable for those shops to be selling tobacco. It is a way of driving something—a bad thing—out of our society. That can only be a good thing.

An addicted life is not a free life. The spurious grounds cited for objecting to this Bill have not demonstrated what needs to be demonstrated: that this Bill would make things worse. The social contract that gives us legitimacy in this place is a balance. We have done some things recently that have tested that balance, and today we have a chance to show the 60% or so people who support this Bill that we are on their side. Government should not always be allergic to doing things that are popular, because when push comes to shove, yes of course people love freedom, but to exercise that freedom, people need to be alive.

I come back to where I started—to my dad. The last 20 years of his life were scarred by strokes, heart attacks and dementia, all exacerbated by smoking. That was not a free life; it was a life destroyed by addiction for precious little pleasure and a lot of money. We need the freedom to live longer, healthier, happier lives, with fewer people dying needlessly. That is what this Bill can do for us today.

I cannot understand why someone would vote against it. I cannot understand why they would be indifferent to it. What we should do, surely, is answer the question in front of us as best we can. I cannot help but think that if someone is voting against this today, they cannot see the human wood for the ideological trees. We have the answer. For all the high-flown arguments about the nanny state, the beginning and the end of this debate should be very simple: will people live longer, healthier, happier lives? Will they be alive? The Bill will deliver that. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 5:43, 16 April 2024

As a former public health Minister, and a current vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, I am delighted to speak in this landmark debate today and to support the measures in this Bill. Today, the UK takes another significant step towards becoming smoke-free, which will safeguard the health and wellbeing of millions of people across the country from the threat of smoking-related diseases.

I begin by taking Members back more than 60 years to the start of this marathon debate—not that many of us can remember 1962. This was a time when leading political figures such as Harold Wilson and Tony Benn openly smoked during interviews; when we were told that our doctor’s cigarette of choice was a Camel; and when a young American actor named Ronald Reagan, whom my hon. Friend Matt Warman has just mentioned, appeared in glossy ads encouraging people to send special Christmas cartons of Chesterfields to all their friends instead of a traditional card.

1962 was also the year when the UK’s relationship with smoking changed. A crucial report published by the Royal College of Physicians shed light on the devastating consequences of smoking and urgently called on the Government to tackle smoking. This seminal report paved the way for numerous groundbreaking reforms, including health warnings on packs and a ban on smoking in public places.

In more recent years, Government policy to tackle the rise of smoking has largely focused on increasing tobacco duty. However, although a packet of 20 king-size cigarettes has risen from £1.68 in 1990 to around £17 in 2024, taxation alone has not solved the problem, with 12.9% of the overall population, and 14% of the population of my Erewash constituency, still continuing to smoke.

The impetus for the Government to act now through new legislation to create a smoke-free generation cannot be clearer. Smoking is the UK’s single biggest preventable killer. It causes 15 different types of cancer, and it is linked to cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes and dementia, as well as reducing life expectancy in Derbyshire by an estimated eight years.

Smoking puts huge pressure on the NHS, with someone being admitted to hospital with a smoking-related condition almost every minute in England, resulting in 400,000 admissions every year. Tobacco use in England costs billions of pounds in lost productivity and in health and social care costs. ASH estimates that the total cost of smoking, including productivity loss, social care costs and health costs, is £91.8 million in my Erewash constituency.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill represents a bold and necessary response to this public health crisis, and it is a direct result of the review that Javed Khan carried out while I was public health Minister. The measures he proposes will, without doubt, save tens of thousands of lives and save the health system billions of pounds, and they will save an entire generation, including in Erewash, from addiction.

Regardless of party politics, as my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness said, we all enter this place with the honourable intention of making life better for the people we represent. I recently met students from Dovedale Primary School in my constituency, and we discussed the idea of increasing the age of tobacco sales by one year every year. The students unanimously backed this measure. By supporting this legislation and ensuring that children turning 15 or younger this year, including all those Dovedale Primary School students, will never be legally sold cigarettes, we have a golden opportunity to deliver on that promise of making life better for our constituents. If we do not, how could we ever again go into schools in our constituencies and look those children and young people in the eye?

Another objection raised by critics of the Bill and by tobacco manufacturers is that the cost of smoking to the public finances is far less than tobacco tax revenues. This is just not the case. Lost productivity, healthcare costs and social care expenditure paint a stark picture of the true cost of smoking to the public finances. ASH estimates that, in 2019, lost productivity in England due to smoking cost £14 billion, in addition to a £3 billion cost to the NHS and social care. Tobacco excise tax revenues for the whole UK were under £9 billion in 2019, so the financial burden imposed by smoking far outweighs any tax revenues raised by tobacco sales.

As I have already mentioned, the Khan review outlines that vaping is an effective tool to help people quit smoking. Although I agree with that analysis, many young people are being given these nicotine products and are becoming addicted. This is all down to a clever ploy by tobacco manufacturers. Today, the vaping industry is applying similar tactics to those used by big tobacco in 1962. Vapes are increasingly being marketed as fashion accessories, and the Bill will tackle this directly be regulating the packaging of vaping and nicotine products, which will also reduce the appeal and attractiveness of vaping and nicotine products to children and young people. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have considered a total ban on the sale of tobacco and vaping products within a defined radius of schools, as I am sure that would have a huge impact?

Finally, on the illicit vaping market, our efforts to combat smoking and vaping must extend the legal market to tackle that side of things. We have all heard stories of criminal gangs exploiting the market and selling vapes containing synthetic Spice. Only last week, King’s College London published a report by Dr Caroline Copeland that outlined the fact that so-called zombie drugs have been found in fake vapes. Once again, may I ask the Minister what she is doing to tackle that dangerous aspect of the vaping market?

To conclude, this is our 1962 moment. As parliament-arians, we have an opportunity to end smoking once and for all, ensuring that future generations are protected. Some may argue that now is not the time to legislate on this matter. I say, if not now, when? The Tobacco and Vapes Bill is the single biggest public health intervention in a generation, and 66% of adults across Great Britain support the legislation. Now is the time for colleagues across the House to back the Bill for the sake of public health, the economy and our NHS.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 5:51, 16 April 2024

I have spent four years in this position, and as with most things in life, the more time we spend doing a job, the better we get at it. I feel that is true in this place, and I hope that the Whips on the Front Bench agree.

My understanding of what it means to be a legislator has been on a steep learning curve. How I look at policy has changed during my time here. I have concluded that, as an MP who is guided by his Christian faith, I should apply to all policies three simple tests: is the policy Conservative, is it needed and is it enforceable? I applied those tests to the Bill. On the first test, sadly I do not think the policy is Conservative. I understand banning drugs. I understand banning drinking and driving. I understand banning smoking in pubs. But to ban the use of a legal product for someone born in 2009, but not for someone born in 2008, seems a little too far overreaching.

The policy also creates the nanny state that I and many others speak about, which has so many implications. Where does it end? Obesity is killing as many people as smoking, so are we to ban McDonalds, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts and chocolate? Alcohol is another killer. Do we ban that too? What about driving accidents? Do we ban motorbikes and fast cars? What about fires? Do we ban candles? What about Scotland’s law on supposed hate speech? Someone’s words offend, so we ban free speech. On the first test—is it Conservative?—sadly, I think not.

The next test is whether it is needed. I believe that the Prime Minister’s intentions are honourable. Smoking kills many people many years before their time. Often they suffer a slow and painful death. I am campaigning hard for a new hospital in Doncaster, so I visit Doncaster Royal Infirmary fairly often. One of the saddest sights is patients standing outside the hospital, often in their dressing gowns, in all weathers, smoking. It is a bizarre sight. They are there to get better, yet they are sadly killing themselves at the same time. I am sure this is replicated across the country. Smoking is not a nice habit. It costs a fortune, and it results in bad breath, clothes that stink, yellow teeth and yellow fingers. At one time, many people thought that it was fashionable to smoke, but we are all clear now that it is not. Is this Bill needed? Let us just say I can understand why many think it is.

Thirdly, is it enforceable? That is another difficulty with the Bill. As I have said before, we are quick to make legislation but often we are simply not enforcing the legislation we already have in place. Many of our streets have issues with the use of banned substances and illegal activities. The use of cannabis is often ignored, even though we can smell it on many streets. Prostitution is illegal but that is often ignored. Quad bikes on our streets may not be ignored, but they are often difficult to deal with. Are we going to spend time prosecuting shop assistants for selling cigarettes to a 35-year-old when their 36-year-old friend can still buy them? I think not. I understand the hope that by then the 35-year-old will not want to smoke, but banning something often creates an unregulated black market, often turning law-abiding citizens into criminals, which is never a good thing to do.

As far as my three tests go, this legislation only really passes one of them, and I therefore struggle to support it. To go back to my first point, is the Bill Conservative? More importantly, is it more evidence of the creation of the nanny state? I believe so. If we take more and more decisions away from adults, then more adults will continually rely more and more on the state to make decisions for them. That is not a good thing and sadly will only create more powerful Governments and weaker individuals.

This thought reminded me of a video I watched recently, and I want to read what the gentleman in it said—his words, not mine:

“My grandfather walked 10 miles to work every day. My father walked five. I’m driving a Cadillac. My son is in a Mercedes. My grandson will be in a Ferrari. But my great grandson will be walking again. Why is that? Tough times create strong people. Strong people create easy times. Easy times create weak people. Weak people create tough times.”

Many will not understand, but we have to raise warriors. Nanny states do not raise warriors; they create weak individuals. As the man said, weak individuals create tough times. I want a society to help raise warriors as I believe, going forward, we are going to need as many as we can find, smokers or not.

Finally, is it Christian to support or not support the Bill? I am sure there are arguments on both sides. But we start each day in this place by saying the Lord’s prayer. We ask our Lord,

“lead me not into temptation.”

We do not ask Him to take temptation away. No, I think our Lord wants us to be warriors too, to be able to withstand the many temptations this world offers. I also think He wants us to make decisions, not sit on the fence. I therefore cannot abstain, which I believe would be the easy option.

I will therefore be voting against the Bill, not because I want young people to smoke—I do not—but because I want them to be warriors who can say no to the many temptations they may face. I want to educate them to rely on themselves to make the right decisions, and not to rely on the state to make decisions for them.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 5:58, 16 April 2024

I rise to support the Bill and to make two declarations. First, I chair the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. The group’s objective is to encourage people who smoke to give up and young people not to take up smoking at all in the first place, which the Bill aims to achieve. My second declaration is personal. I do not want anybody else to go through what I went through, which was seeing my two parents dying of cancer—a smoking-related disease. I well remember my late mother, at the age of 47, gasping for her last breath. She had been smoking since she was 12. At the time, smoking was almost encouraged by doctors and the medical fraternity, as the implication was that it was a good thing to do.

I want to see a smoke-free generation. We have the opportunity to achieve that now. New Zealand was going to be at the forefront of this effort, but has decided not to go ahead, which means that we can now be in the vanguard of creating the first smoke-free generation in the world. However, the stakes could not be higher. Research from University College London says that 350 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 take up smoking every day. That means that 50,000 young people have taken up smoking since the Government first announced their proposals. They will face a lifetime of addiction and early death as a result.

Relatively few people in my constituency smoke—the numbers are way below average rates. None the less, smoking-related diseases accounted for 1,300 hospital admissions in the year before the pandemic. People suffer the same inequalities as a result. Some say that if we implement these measures we will not have the taxation coming into the Treasury, but in 2023, smoking cost the economy £21 billion. That is more than double the revenue that the Government get from tobacco levies. Some say that people who die early are doing us a favour by not being an imposition on the national health service. That is absolutely outrageous. We want people to live longer and healthier lives.

Let me make this clear for all those who believe in freedom of choice. I am a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative and I believe in free choice, but the only free choice that a person makes if they take up smoking is to take that first cigarette, because after that they are addicted for life; the craving is there. Although most adult smokers want to give up, the reality is that it takes 30 attempts to succeed. Only one in 10 smokers achieve that each year. Therefore, if a person smokes, they will die a horrible death, probably as a result of a smoking-related disease.

This Bill has the opportunity of creating a smoke-free generation and of making sure that young people do not get addicted in the first place. If they wish to take up smoking when they are an adult that is their choice—their free choice—but, importantly, this Bill does not criminalise those people who smoke at the moment for either purchasing or using tobacco. The legal obligation will be on the retailers not to sell tobacco to those who are underage.

Like many people, I am concerned about the number of young people taking up vaping. The reality is that we do not yet have the evidence of what that will do to their lungs in the future. We know that it will get them addicted to nicotine, which is the most addictive drug known to man or woman. Once they are addicted to some form of nicotine, the temptation is to go further. We do not know what damage is being done to people’s lungs by the delivery mechanism of vaping, but medical evidence on that will emerge. It is important that we take action now rather than waiting to see what happens.

There is clear public support for these measures. Sixty nine per cent. of the public, including more than half of all smokers, back the Prime Minister’s age of sale proposal. There is support for the Bill across the political parties. The majority of people who vote for each of our parties across the Chamber support this proposal, and that should not come as a great surprise, because no one wants to see their children or grandchildren become addicted.

Sadly, big tobacco is fighting back. Tobacco companies have even attempted to classify themselves as allies of public health. Philip Morris International threatened to take legal action against the Government to delay the legislation. I am not sure what it thinks it is saying with its new corporate slogan, “Delivering a smoke-free future” when its whole aim is to get people addicted in the first place. The other reality is that big tobacco has been trying to get many of its products, such as heat-not-burn and cigars, exempted from the Bill—exemptions that would undermine the Bill before it even takes effect. Those products still contain tobacco and harmful products, and still cause damage to people’s health. We cannot allow those exemptions to happen. Another thing that we should change is the current exemption for cigarillos from standardised packaging laws—maybe we could consider that as the legislating take place.

The other reality that I want to mention is the discrepancies between Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Scotland has a clear requirement for retailers to identify people by their age. I welcome that, as it is the right thing to do. As it stands, the Bill does not appear to require that in Wales or in England. I hope that we can amend the Bill as it goes through Committee to allow the provision that exists in Scotland —we should support what they have done there—to apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I know that you require me to sit down, Madam Deputy Speaker, but this is a subject that I have been passionate about for rather a long time. The reality is that the smoking ban back in 2007 was led from the Back Benches. Indeed, many Labour Ministers voted against the tobacco ban—

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Including the Deputy Prime Minister. From that ban through to the 2015 progress on tobacco control, such measures have consistently come from the Back Benches. In fact, colleagues from across the House have helped to implement many of them. I am delighted that the all-party parliamentary group’s recommendations have been included in the Khan review. I thank the Prime Minister for going even further than what we asked for, which was a rise in the age of sale to create a smoke-free generation by raising the age of sale by one year every year. The reality is that tobacco control measures have consistently passed through this Chamber and the other with overwhelming support from across parties every single time they have been proposed. I am confident that this Bill will be no different.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford 6:07, 16 April 2024

The Bill sets two important principles crashing against each other: on the one hand, the principle of personal freedom, and on the other, the responsibility of a Government to act on public health. We are really lucky to live in a country that treasures personal freedom, and we should be careful of bans that take freedoms away.

However, smoking is the biggest preventable killer and costs the NHS and the economy billions every year. Most people who smoke wish that they had never started in the first place—that they had never had that choice—and I agree with them. I have lost weight, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I took a decision six months ago to give up alcohol, but that was far easier than giving up nicotine. People value the choice to make silly decisions. When they were told that they should not eat an easter egg all in one go, there was a public backlash. Given that this is about personal choice, I think it right that this be a free vote.

However, when I thought about the free vote, I realised that this does not really affect me; it affects young people, who have a right to be heard. That is why I wrote to secondary schools in my constituency to ask young people for their views. I am really grateful for the detailed feedback from three of those schools. I will not mention which schools, because they gave me their confidence and I do not want them to get in trouble with their peers.

One group reported back that the general consensus was that a ban was a good thing, and another said that they had mixed views. A third group sent me detailed comments from every single year 12 and 13 student of politics. In that group, the number of students supporting the Bill’s measures was more than double those who did not. The majority is even greater for the part of the Bill about vapes than for the part about tobacco. The children commented that the brightly coloured flavoured vapes are targeted at young people. They also worry about the environmental impact, especially of disposable vapes, and would like to have stronger limitations on disposable products than on reusable ones. They recognised that vaping can help adults to quit smoking and raised the concern that stronger restrictions on vapes may cause some adults to return to smoking, but they are also concerned about the lack of knowledge of the long-term impacts of vaping, especially for young people. Other students pointed out that fixing a set date of birth for those who are able to buy tobacco seems somewhat arbitrary, feels unfair and could be difficult to enforce, especially as those people get older. Some raised concerns that younger people will still obtain products—both vapes and cigarettes—from older people or from illegal sources.

All the groups commented on the need for enforcement measures, wisely pointing out that just passing a law in this House does not necessarily change behaviour. I was pleased that the Health Secretary said that local authorities will be able to keep the proceeds of fines in order to enforce this law. Some students were also concerned about the challenges that enforcement will pose to retail workers—the Government’s new proposal to introduce a specific offence of assaulting a retail worker may go some way to addressing those concerns. The final point, which I thought was really important to mention, was that some young people were concerned that if these products are banned, other items that are potentially even more dangerous will take over.

All those points have been mentioned individually by many colleagues in today’s debate, and every single one of them was considered by the young people in my constituency. I was deeply impressed by the thought they gave to the matter: they value freedom and choice, but when asked for their views, the majority of the young people of Chelmsford who responded said that they would support the measures in the Bill. It was not a unanimous opinion, and I respect those who did not agree, but in a democracy, the majority views are those that prevail. Therefore, out of respect for the majority view of the young people in my constituency—who will be affected by this Bill much more than any of us—I am going to vote for the Bill today, because it is their views on the Bill that will matter.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 6:11, 16 April 2024

What a fascinating afternoon of different speeches. As my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford has just indicated, there are two very different ways of approaching the Bill. It is very much a personal matter: tonight’s vote is not whipped, and therefore all of us will have our different perceptions, but I start by saying that we are not all here—as one Member said—to try to prevent restrictions on human activity. I do not see that as the reason I was sent to this House, but surely we were all sent here to try to achieve a better future for the children and grandchildren of our constituents. Once we have all agreed on that, we can discuss whether a ban on children smoking now that will, in time, mean a ban on everyone smoking is a wonderful way of preventing what is not a liberty but an addiction, or whether taking away that freedom is just a slippery slope towards taking away all other freedoms.

Of course, although we cannot measure precisely the future damage of allowing people to carry on as they have been—being able to do themselves considerable damage—we know that the NHS calculates that the current financial cost of smoking is £17 billion a year. For those of us who are also concerned about the size of the state, the use of resources, the productivity of the NHS, and the ability of our constituents to have elective surgery when they want it and to see doctors when they wish to, this is surely a huge opportunity to make a massive difference—not just to future generations’ potential to avoid addiction to tobacco, but to their ability to get the health services that they want at a cost that this country can afford. That is the crux of what we have been discussing today.

It is very interesting to me that all the doctors in the House and all the health professionals in our constituencies—as my neighbour and hon. Friend, Siobhan Baillie, has highlighted in Gloucestershire—are absolutely united that this is one of the single most important and useful interventions that this House could make. It is a huge credit to this Prime Minister that he has set out a vision with clarity and pursued it with determination, and is absolutely clear that were this House to vote this Bill through, it would be part of whatever legacy he leaves in the future, as a politician keen to make a difference.

I believe the idea that, on the contrary, encouraging worse health outcomes should continue because it somehow benefits people’s freedoms would be a valid one only if the whole business of smoking was harmless and largely cost-free, and we know that that simply is not the case. We have heard the data and the calls: 75,000 GP appointments a month, 690 premature deaths in the Gloucester Royal Hospital alone, and every minute of every day a new patient somewhere in a hospital in the UK because of smoking. We cannot argue that the freedom to smoke and to be addicted comes cost-free, and I cannot imagine opposing a Bill that supports better health and better life outcomes. For the libertarians, it will in fact help to reduce the size and cost of the state. Therefore all these things are fundamentally Conservative goals. In fact, they are not even just Conservative goals, but surely human goals that all of us in this House can share.

In all this, we do not need to think too much about a nanny state—none of us is keen on the phrase “nanny state” or the concept—but how many people here would stand up and vote to take away safety belts in cars, or suggest that everyone could drive motorbikes without a helmet? I believe that what may seem like a slight increase in bureaucracy will, in a few years’ time, be seen as so obvious that we will all be astonished there was any opposition at all. I believe strongly that protecting children, just as we banned children from being chimney sweeps in generations gone by, by banning them from smoking for future generations is exactly what a progressive Conservative Government should do. This Bill, if passed, will be one of the most far-reaching laws that this Government and this Parliament have made. I am absolutely convinced—

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West 6:16, 16 April 2024

I support the Bill’s aim to create the first smoke-free generation. It is bold and visionary, and I support it.

I want to use my time to make four short points. It will not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the first one concerns the new city of Southend. My vision is to make the city of Southend safer, healthier and wealthier for all, but the incidence of smoking in Southend is a real barrier to that vision. In 2022, the rate of smoking in Southend was estimated to be over 14%, which is 1.5% higher than the national average. What is even more concerning is that the 2022 figure is 3% higher than the 2021 figure. Although it is laudable that smoking rates have been consistently declining in the UK for the past 40 years, the reality is that in some of our coastal cities—and, sadly, Southend is one of them—the rates are still too high and are even rising. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has sought to tackle this issue, and anything that makes the next generation of Southenders healthier certainly has my backing.

I am delighted that the Bill tackles vaping. As we have heard, recent research shows that nearly a quarter of children use vapes, with more than 10% in secondary schools describing themselves as regular users. Vaping is much more concerning because we simply do not yet know the long-term effects, but what we do know is alarming. We know that vaping-related hospital admissions almost doubled in 2022, with 32 of those cases involving children. Bearing in mind that cigarettes were once considered to be perfectly safe, as we have heard, I believe it is simply not responsible to fail to act to stop young people becoming hooked on these products.

However, like others I have a number of concerns about how the Bill will work in practice. There are only 5,000 trading standards officers around the country. How can such a small number ensure that the ban on the sale of these products is enforced? Just as importantly, as this Bill is currently drafted, if someone were to go abroad on a trip and come back with a pack of 200 Marlboro Gold—apparently only £37 at the current duty-free rate—there is nothing to stop them smoking them or giving them to others because they have not bought them, so that has to be tackled as well.

Like my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford, I have engaged with my local students. My last cohort of work experience students, all with an interest in politics, were very interested in this policy. Students from Westcliff High School for Girls, Southend High School for Girls, Southend High School for Boys and the King Edmund School all support the aim of the Bill, but they too raise a number of intelligent concerns. They want to know how shops that already sell illegal and unregulated nicotine products will be dealt with when they add illegal vapes. They want to know how people well into adulthood will be identified for nicotine products—how will shops tackle that? They strongly support the banning of disposable vapes, particularly for environmental reasons, but they are much more concerned about cracking down on the under-age vaping that is already happening than banning future vape purchases. Finally, they raised considerable concerns about the potential for a black market in nicotine products. They pointed out the prevalence of unregulated products cut with even worse substances in the illicit drug market, and they fear we might be opening the door for this to happen with nicotine products as well.

I support the principle of the ban. This is about protecting the long-term health of young people in our country and I will be voting for it, but we must address the real concerns expressed by the very young people the Bill has been introduced to protect.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 6:22, 16 April 2024

I am not naturally inclined to want to ban things—I lean towards the Government intervening as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary—so I have thought long and hard about this Bill and whether to support it, and I have come to the conclusion that I will vote for it tonight.

The first reason for that is that although I have heard the arguments put forward by some today about freedom, the simple fact is that people who are addicted to nicotine and smoking are not free. I have seen many people suffering with the addiction through their life and trying to give up smoking, and any notion that somehow people who are addicted to smoking are free is nonsense. If we can ever help people to avoid becoming addicted to smoking and nicotine, the Government should take action. The Bill tries to address that issue in a sensible and pragmatic manner and in the right way.

I have also heard it said today that somehow smoking is a matter of personal choice and freedom and it does not really affect anyone else. I would challenge people who say that to go and talk to any family—we have heard stories about this in the Chamber today—who have lost loved ones through long and painful deaths as a result of their smoking. There are victims of smoking beyond the person directly involved, in their family.

Smoking also puts huge pressure on our health systems and damages our economy. These are prices we all have to pay for the addiction to smoking that so many struggle with. When I read the statistic that 75,000 GP appointments a week are directly as a result of smoking, I was astounded. I am sure that all of our inboxes are full of messages from constituents saying they are struggling to see their GP, so we can see that a great difference would be made if we freed up that capacity in primary care. For those reasons I think it is right on this occasion for the Government to intervene.

On the point about shop workers having to check the age of someone in their 30s or 40s to establish whether they are eligible to buy tobacco, the reality is that it will not happen because the whole point of the measures is to stop people smoking in the first place. We know most people start smoking when they are young, and by helping them to avoid ever starting when they are young we just will not have people in their 30s and 40s wanting to buy cigarettes. That is the point.

I also welcome the measures in the Bill on vaping. I have been incredibly concerned about the way vaping has taken hold of particularly young people in our country. I understand and acknowledge that it is a useful tool to help people to get off cigarettes by taking up vaping instead, but the reality is that it is now about so much more than that in our country. It is shameful how some of the vape manufacturers have deliberately tried to get young people addicted to vaping, so that they are locked into being their customers for the rest of their lives, just as the tobacco industry has done for too long. I therefore welcome the measures the Government are taking to try to make vaping less attractive to young people. I suggest that we need to go further. If we say that the main aim of vaping is to help people to get off smoking, why do we not also ban vapes for anyone born after 1 January 2009? If they will not ever smoke, they will not need vaping to get off smoking. That is one way we could go further to improve this Bill and prevent young people from ever taking up vaping in the first place. That would be incredibly welcome.

We do not know the long-term damage that vaping is doing to people. We are starting to see some of the evidence coming forward on the number of young people who end up in hospital as a result of vaping. I am deeply concerned that, just as with tobacco if it was being licensed today—with all that we know about the damage it does to people’s lives—we probably would not license it or approve it for sale. I am concerned that we do not yet understand the long-term impact of vaping, and it will reap a damaging effect on young people’s health.

The Bill is not perfect, but I acknowledge and respect the Prime Minister’s aims in coming forward with something that is bold and will address this important issue in our society. I am happy to support the Bill this evening.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh 6:26, 16 April 2024

I rise in an unusual position, because I smoke like a chimney, but I will give the Government the benefit of the doubt tonight, even though I have concerns about the enforceability of some of the Bill’s measures.

Those who are regular readers of the Leigh Journal—I realise that my audience might not include too many of those—will know that I have written repeatedly about the problem of illicit and illegal tobacco and vapes in Leigh. The simple truth is that there is real concern that a lot of these products are a means to money launder for the gangs who cause the heroin problem in Leigh and for the people smugglers. I have spoken in the Leigh Journal about how Leigh was one of the end points of an international smuggling gang based in the Balkans that used illicit tobacco and vapes as part of their criminal enterprise.

Some people have spoken today about how they do not think the Bill is right and will not support the Government. I will support the Government, but I will complain about the Bill too, because the Government must go further. If someone is selling illegal tobacco and vapes, they should be held accountable. If someone was selling beer or spirits made out of turpentine or toilet water, for example, people would be outraged and there would be a demand for action, but that is happening day in, day out and week in, week out with illegal and counterfeit tobacco and vapes. Some products are made illegitimately to copy “legitimate” products in sweatshops in the far east, and some vapes contain up to 10 times the legal limit of nicotine. As some colleagues with medical knowledge have spoken about today, we simply do not know what damage that will do to young people.

The way we should go further is through a mechanism that we already have to license shops, which is the alcohol licensing scheme. We should expand that scheme, which is run by local authorities, to tobacco. It should be an alcohol and tobacco licence, so that someone cannot apply for one or the other, but has to apply for both. If someone is caught selling a dodgy £2 vape to a 14-year-old, they should have their licence taken away so that they can no longer sell alcohol either. I guarantee that that would basically clean up the system, because nobody will take the risk of selling a dodgy £2 vape to a 14-year-old and risk the loss of their ability to sell alcohol to a much wider pool of people. Those who do will, I suspect, be the organisations that are fronts for the drug dealers and people smugglers. We should also trigger an automatic investigation by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs into those people and follow back the chain of the dodgy vapes and dodgy tobacco to find out who they are. Not only should we take away their licences so that they cannot sell alcohol and tobacco; we should fine them, and not £50 as said earlier, but £10,000. Let us really go for this and teach those people a lesson, because the black market in tobacco and vapes already exists, and it is costing the Treasury millions. It is funding other criminal activity such as heroin dealing and people smuggling, so it must come to an end.

My only criticism of the Government with regard to the Bill is that it does not go far enough. We need more robust regulation, because a giant black market in tobacco and vapes is already there. It needs to be done through the existing licensing system for alcohol, and it needs to have concrete outcomes that will shut down the dodgy shops and cut off a source of funding for the dangerous criminal gangs who also operate in heroin dealing and people smuggling.

The Government have the right intention. I have doubts about some of the detail, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I urge them to strengthen the legislation; it would be to the benefit of us all if they did so. Let us deal with these criminal gangs while we deal with this public health issue, because I am afraid the two are deeply intertwined.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health) 6:31, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. We have heard powerful contributions from Members on both sides of the House in favour of the Bill to bring an end to the smoking epidemic and crack down on vaping companies that are preying on kids. I thank Sir Sajid Javid, my hon. Friends Alex Cunningham and for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) and for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) for their moving contributions on the harms of smoking and the importance of the Bill. Let me also thank my hon. Friends the Members for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), for York Central, (Rachael Maskell) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for the excellent points they made about the growth in vaping.

We have also heard opposition to the Bill. Sir Jake Berry cited the example of people openly taking class A drugs in public without reprimand as evidence that bans do not work. I dare say that he made more of a point about the decline in policing and local enforcement under his Government than about age-of-sale legislation. To the former Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss, I simply say that if wanting to stop future generations from getting addicted to products that may eventually kill them makes us the health police, then the health police we are.

There is no argument about the harm that tobacco does to the people of this country every day. Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of ill health. It leads to 80,000 deaths a year in the United Kingdom, and it is responsible for one in four cancer deaths and more than 70% of lung cancer cases. Smokers lose an average of 10 years of life expectancy. As we have heard, smoking is not a free choice; it is an addiction. Raising the age of sale will help to reduce pressure on the NHS by improving health and wellbeing.

My constituent Eric knows that too well. He is one of thousands of constituents whose lives have been put at risk by smoking. Like the vast majority of smokers, he began smoking when he was a child, at age 14. It was not until his 50s that he was able to give up cold turkey, at the request of his daughter, who urged him to do so on behalf of his newborn grandson. Eric has suffered a heart attack and stroke, and he lives with hypertension, high cholesterol and COPD. As he said:

“COPD is an incurable, mortal disease and makes getting around harder and harder for me.”

The experience of people like Eric is why the last Labour Government took radical action with the smoking ban in 2007: a defining public health achievement. It is also why, while in opposition, we welcomed the Khan review and proposed the generational smoking ban a full 10 months before the Prime Minister made his announcement at his party conference.

There is wide support for the Bill from everyone in the NHS, in the wider health sector and among the general public. The only people who seem to be fighting it tooth and nail are the tobacco companies and Conservative Back Benchers. The former Member for Blackpool South called it “health fascism”, and the former Prime Minister, whose chief of staff worked for Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, has called it “unConservative.” What is it about the tobacco industry that some Tory MPs love so much? Every year the NHS bails out big tobacco to the tune of billions. The Prime Minister might not feel he has the strength to take on those vested interests and whip his MPs to vote against them, but he can rest assured that if they cannot get it over the line, Labour will.

As welcome as this Bill is, the Government have had 14 years to take stronger action on smoking. Four years ago, the Government said that their ambition was a smoke-free Britain by 2030, but they are currently estimated to be at least seven years behind their Smokefree 2030 target and not on course to meet it in the poorest areas until 2044. The generational smoking ban will help us get there, but it will not help the 6 million to 7 million adults who already smoke.

As many Members have said, stop smoking services have faced savage cuts. The number of smokers who quit through stop smoking services has dropped from 400,000 a year in 2010 to around 100,000 today. Does the Minister regret not doing more to bring down smoking rates over the past 14 years? The Government have belatedly committed more funding to stop smoking services, but the uplift in funding that the Minister offers will not take us back to the number of people setting quitting dates that we achieved in 2010. What assurance can she offer that her measures will get the Government on course to hit the 5% smoke-free target by 2030?

The Bill is strong on tackling the take-up of cigarettes and vapes by young people, but it does little to help those already addicted to quit. Recently, a school in my constituency had to apologise after handing out a leaflet to a child that suggested smoking as a self-help measure. Does the Minister agree that it is scandalous that the myth that smoking reduces stress and anxiety still persists? Does she agree that her Bill should include a requirement to make tobacco companies include information to dispel that myth in their products?

The Bill also includes a range of powers to tackle youth vaping, which Labour welcomes. For years, Labour has been warning about the explosion of young people getting addicted to nicotine with products that look like teddy bears and sippy cups, and come in flavours like unicorn shake. That is why Labour voted to ban the marketing and branding of vapes to children in 2021. Once again, Labour leads and this Government belatedly follow. In the meantime, an estimated 255,000 more children aged 11 to 17 have become addicted to vapes, according to ASH survey data. Does the Minister regret taking so long to wake up to this issue?

According to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, while youth vaping has soared, so has the number of illegal products flooding our market, as many Members have raised. Up to one in three vapes sold in shops is estimated to be illicit, which means that children are being exposed to vapes that contain heavy metals, antifreeze and poster varnish, as well illegal levels of nicotine getting them hooked for life. Will the Minister explain how she expects to bring in effective new regulations on vapes when her Government are barely in control of the black market now? Does she agree that a cross-Government strategy is needed to tackle the smuggling of potentially dangerous products into our country? Has she considered giving the MHRA new powers to screen products before they come on the market? Will she confirm that her Bill will provide powers to tackle not just the sale but the import of dangerous products?

To conclude, after 14 years of the Tories, healthy life expectancy has dropped for the first time in modern British history. Labour supports this Bill but, after 14 years of failure and with the NHS in crisis, we regret that it marks a last desperate attempt of this Government to rescue a legacy on public health. For 14 years they have played politics with public health, putting off prevention measures, knowing that taxpayers tomorrow will pay the price. But the country is paying for this now. Labour will always put public health first, prioritise prevention to ease pressure on the NHS, improve access to smoking cessation services and take on the tobacco and vape companies that are profiting off people’s health.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 6:38, 16 April 2024

I want to start by thanking the many lung cancer and asthma charities, particularly ASH, for their advice, research and support. I personally pay tribute to the chief medical officer for England for his commitment to making the strongest possible case for this life-changing legislation, and to Health Ministers across the UK for their collaboration in what will be a UK-wide solution for future generations.

I was very disappointed with Wes Streeting, who opened for the Opposition. I have said it before and I will say it again: I like the hon. Gentleman. He once said on air that that was death to his career! Why would he have said that, Madam Deputy Speaker? But I am really disappointed today, because he was not listening. My hon. Friends had some very sensible questions about consultation, and they raised very serious points about flavours for vapes and how they might help adults to quit. He was not listening; he was making party political points. In fact, he barely said anything sensible about the legislation. All he did was talk politics. I appreciate the fact that Labour Members have been whipped to support the Bill. On my side, colleagues are trusted to make their own decisions on something that has always been a matter for a free vote. [Interruption.] He sits there shouting from a sedentary position, political point-scoring yet again.

Preet Kaur Gill raised a very serious question about stop smoking services. I can tell her that the Government have allocated £138 million a year to stop smoking, which is more than doubling. The Government’s commitment to helping adults to stop smoking is absolutely unparalleled.

I thank Kirsten Oswald for her support for the Bill, and for the collaborative approach of the Government in Scotland in their work bringing forward this collaboration among all parts of the United Kingdom.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Steve Brine, the Chair of the Health Committee for his excellent speech and his strong case for long-term policies that will prevent ill health and thereby reduce the pressures on the NHS, which is so important. He asked when we will see the regulations and the consultation on vaping flavours, packaging and location in stores. It is our intention to bring forward that consultation during this Parliament if at all practicable.

I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Sajid Javid for his tribute to Dr Javed Khan for his excellent report into the terrible trap of addiction to nicotine. My right hon. Friend made the point that it is simply not a free choice, but the total opposite.

I thank the Liberal Democrats and their spokesman, Daisy Cooper, for saying that they will support the Bill on Second Reading. I am not quite sure where they are going on the smoking legislation, but I am grateful for their support on vaping. I hope to be able to reassure them during the passage of the Bill.

The case for the Bill is totally clear: cigarettes are the product that, when used as the manufacturer intends, will go on to kill two thirds of its long-term users. That makes it different from eating at McDonald’s or even drinking—what was it?—a pint of wine, which one of my colleagues was suggesting. It is very, very different. Smoking causes 70% of lung cancer cases. It causes asthma in young people. It causes stillbirths, it causes dementia, disability and early death. I will give way on that cheery note.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

I thank the Minister for giving way. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a practising NHS consultant addiction psychiatrist. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that what we have heard from the libertarian right today is a false equivalence between alcohol and bad dietary choices, and smoking, and that moderate alcohol and moderate bad eating are very different from moderate smoking, because moderate smoking kills. It means that people live on average 10 years less and it means less healthy lives. Does she agree that this is not about libertarianism but about doing the right thing, protecting public health and protecting the next generation, and that is why we should all support the Bill?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes such a powerful point and speaks with such authority. Similar points were made by my hon. Friend Dr Johnson, who as a paediatrician spoke with great expertise on this matter. It is absolutely true: it is a false choice. It is not a freedom of choice; it is a choice to become addicted and that then removes your choice.

Every year, more than 100,000 children aged between 11 and 15 light their first cigarette. What they can look forward to is a life of addiction to nicotine, spending thousands of pounds a year, making perhaps 30 attempts to quit, with all the misery that involves, and then experiencing life-limiting, entirely preventable suffering. Two thirds of them will die before their time. Some 83% of people start smoking before the age of 20, which is why we need to have the guts to create the first smoke-free generation across the United Kingdom, making sure that children turning 15 or younger this year will never be legally sold tobacco. That is the single biggest intervention that we can make to improve our nation’s health. Smoking is responsible for about 80,000 deaths every year, but it would still be worth taking action if the real figure were half that, or even a tenth of it.

There is also a strong economic case for the Bill. Every year, smoking costs our country at least £17 billion, far more than the £10 billion of tax revenue that it draws in. It costs our NHS and social care system £3 billion every year, with someone admitted to hospital with a smoking-related illness almost every minute of every day, and 75,000 GP appointments every week for smoking-related problems.[Official Report, 30 April 2024; Vol. 749, c. 4WC.] (Correction) That is a massive and totally preventable waste of resources. For those of us on this side of the House who are trying hard to increase access to the NHS and enable more patients to see their GPs, this is a really good target on which to focus. On the positive side, creating a smoke-free generation could deliver productivity gains of nearly £2 billion within a decade, potentially reaching £16 billion by 2056, improving work prospects, boosting efficiency and driving the economic growth that we need in order to pay for the first-class public services that we all want.

I know that hon. Members who oppose the Bill are doing so with the best of intentions. They argue that adults should be free to make their own decisions, and I get that. What we are urging them to do is make their own free decision to choose to be addicted to nicotine, but that is not in fact a choice, and I urge them to look at the facts. Children start smoking because of peer pressure, and because of persistent marketing telling them that it is cool. I know from experience how hard it is, once hooked, to kick the habit. I took up smoking at the age of 14. My little sister was 12 at the time, and we used to buy 10 No. 6 and a little book of matches and —yes—smoke behind the bicycle shed, and at the bus stop on the way home from school. [Interruption.] Yes, I know: I am outing myself here.

Having taken up smoking at the age of 14, I was smoking 40 a day by the age of 20, and as a 21st birthday present to myself I gave up. But today, 40 years later—I am now 60, so do the maths—with all this talk of smoking, I still feel like a fag sometimes. That is how addictive smoking is. This is not about freedom to choose; it is about freedom from addiction.

There is another angle. Those in the tobacco industry are, of course, issuing dire warnings of unintended consequences from the raising of the age of sale. They say that it will cause an explosion in the black market. That is exactly what they said when the age of sale rose from 16 to 18, but the opposite happened: the number of illicit cigarettes consumed fell by a quarter, and at the same time smoking rates among 16 and 17-year-olds in England fell by almost a third. Raising the age of sale is a tried and tested policy, and a policy that is supported not only by a majority of retailers—which, understandably, has been mentioned by a number of Members—but by more than 70% of the British public.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

If I had known that my right hon. Friend was such a keen smoker, I would not have recruited her to the Conservative party at the tender age of 18 when we were at university.

I have always taken a free-choice approach to health matters, and as shadow Children’s Minister I had to lead on both the tobacco advertising ban and the public smoking ban. We were wrong to oppose them. Who would now think it remotely normal for people to be able to smoke around us in restaurants and other public places? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that in a few years’ time this measure will seem just the same as banning smoking in public places, and people will ask why we did not do it earlier?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

As I have said ever since I met my hon. Friend at the age of 18, he is always right. I can never disagree with him.

I want to say a few even more furious words about vaping. It is just appalling to see vapes being deliberately marketed to children at pocket-money prices and in bright colours, with fun packaging and flavours like bubble gum and berry blast, and with the vape counter right next to the sweet counter.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Before my right hon. Friend gets too furious about vaping, may I ask her to clarify two points on smoking? First, she said that because of the addictive nature of nicotine, it is extremely important that we stop people smoking from the age of 15. I do not support that, but if it is so important, why are we not starting at 17? It is already illegal for 17-year-olds to smoke. What is the magic of 15? If we really believe in the policy, why delay? Secondly, she spoke about her own experience, and I am a former smoker myself. She started smoking at 14, and I started smoking at about 14 as well. It was illegal when I started smoking at 14, but it did not stop me. I am a lawbreaker—how shocking. Why does she think that this ban on people starting smoking when under age will be different?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising those really important points. As I will come on to, we will be putting £30 million of new money each year into trading standards and our enforcement agencies to clamp down on enforcement, and we are making it illegal to sell cigarettes to anybody turning 15 this year. He asks why. It is precisely because we are trying to bring in the Bill with a decent amount of notice so that people can prepare for it, precisely to protect retailers and allow all the sectors that will be impacted to be able to prepare.

I come back to the area where I am seriously on the warpath: targeting kids who might become addicted to nicotine vapes. I went to Hackney to visit some retail shops, where I saw the vape counters right next to the sweet counters. I saw that it is absolutely not about me—it is not about trying to stop me smoking. It is about trying to get children addicted through cynical, despicable methods. Sadly, for too many kids, vapes are already an incredible marketing success. One in five children aged between 11 and 17 have now used a vape, and the number has trebled in the last three years.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as she ploughs through all of this. I wonder whether she can share her views on the advertising of vape products on sports kits and via sports facilities.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The hon. Lady is aware that there is already very restrictive advertising for smoking and vaping. We are very concerned that some advertising is breaching advertising standards regulations, and I will write to retailers specifically about that.

Parents and teachers are incredibly worried about the effect that vapes are having on developing lungs and brains. The truth is that we do not yet know what the long-term impact will be on children who vape. Since I was appointed, I have done everything I can to ensure that this Bill will protect our children. The Government’s position is clear: vaping is less harmful than smoking, but if you don’t smoke, don’t vape—and children should never vape.

We will definitely make sure that people who smoke today continue to have access to vapes as a quit aid, which will absolutely not change, but we cannot replace one generation that is hooked on nicotine in cigarettes with another that is hooked on nicotine in vapes. That is why we are using this Bill to take powers to restrict flavours and packaging, and to change how vapes are displayed in shops. To reassure the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee and my right hon. Friend Sir Jake Berry, we plan to consult on that before the end of the Parliament, if practicable. The disposable vapes ban will likely take effect in April 2025—those regulations have already been published.

These are common-sense proposals that strike the right balance between helping retailers to prepare, giving sufficient notice and protecting children from getting hooked on nicotine, while at the same time supporting current smokers to quit by switching to vapes as a less harmful quit aid, supported by £138 million a year. Our approach is realistic for those who smoke now and resolute in protecting children. I am convinced that, just like banning smoking in indoor public places and raising the age of sale to 18, these measures will seem commonsensical to all of us in 10 years’ time. In decades to come, our great-grandchildren will look back and think: why on earth did they not do it sooner? I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to vote for this Bill as the biggest public intervention in history. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Division number 123 Tobacco and Vapes Bill: Second Reading

Aye: 381 MPs

No: 66 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Abstained: 1 MP

Abstained: A-Z by last name

The House divided: Ayes 383, Noes 67.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.