Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:45 pm, 4th July 2016

My Lords, I welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for allowing us to have a further go, since we have already debated it in Grand Committee. I am sure the Minister is looking forward to winding up at the end of the debate.

I should declare an interest as president of the Royal Society for Public Health, which has pronounced on e-cigarettes. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, who was a mite critical of the organisation, that as a Minister I established the MHRA, and I am glad to see that it is doing so well in relation to this matter. I liked his rousing endorsement of the record of Ministers in his Government on this matter. When he mentioned Edwina Currie, I thought he was going to talk about eggs—he will recall that she had a bit of a downer on egg production—but she did not quite take it to Europe in the way he suggested.

I have moved an amendment to the Motion because, although I share some of the noble Lord’s concerns about the regulations in relation e-cigarettes, my problem with his Motion is that he calls on the Government to withdraw the entire set of regulations. The regulations cover e-cigarettes, but there are also a lot of useful measures that will discourage smoking in general. That is why I cannot support the noble Lord’s Motion, although I share some of his concerns.

It is pretty clear from the work of my own organisation, the Royal Society for Public Health, as well as from that of the Royal College of Physicians and other health bodies, that e-cigarettes can actually be an incredibly useful tool in encouraging smokers to give up smoking. The core of people who have already taken advantage of e-cigarettes are often those whom traditional public health measures have not touched. That is why I am particularly concerned about whether the regulations will have a negative impact on that group.

Equally, I know that noble Lords will quote the report of the Royal College of Physicians. It is worth reading because it says that there is a case for some regulatory provisions, and the Minister will no doubt refer to that. However, my main concern is the point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, that RSPH research has revealed that 90% of the public have the impression that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful as tobacco. That is not helped by the fact that some organisations have notices prohibiting not just smoking, but vaping. Because some elements in the public health field—how can I put this kindly?—perhaps got the wrong end of the stick when e-cigarettes were first produced, they have given the impression that e-cigarettes are much more harmful than they are. The problem with the regulations is that they colour the context, and the public may be confused about the positive effect that e-cigarettes can have. Therefore my amendment to the Motion—I do not intend to delay the House very long—seeks to draw attention to some of the concerns that we have about the regulations on e-cigarettes, although we wish to see the regulations introduced as a package.

However, I also draw attention to the other problem that we have with the Government’s current policies on smoking cessation, which is that budgets, particularly those which go to local authorities, have been drastically reduced, and we have seen a drastic reduction in smoking cessation services. As an example, the amount of money that has been spent on smoking cessation media campaigns has been drastically reduced. Some £24.91 million was spent in 2009-10, which has become £5.3 million in 2016. Of course, I understand budgetary constraints, but I would also say that because of the risk of confusion by the public over e-cigarettes, some Department of Health-sponsored public campaigning is necessary to get the right facts across to the public.