My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for referring to me and the part that a number of us played in making the United Kingdom a leader in attempting to reduce the prevalence of tobacco smoking. As your Lordships will recall, it was this House which passed the amendments to the then Children and Families Bill which led to the UK being the first country in Europe to introduce standardised packaging in 2014. Incidentally, it is my understanding that, if the regulations being debated today were annulled, that legislation on standardised packaging would be badly damaged. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the regulations are an important part of the way in which the United Kingdom should meet its obligations to the international tobacco treaty, one requirement of which is that we take continuing action to cut smoking prevalence through “comprehensive tobacco control” strategies. The regulations include other important measures such as the prohibition of flavours in cigarettes, including menthol, designed to attract young people to start to smoke. There are new reporting obligations on the tobacco industry, and rules on notifying new tobacco products. These provisions are important and should not be lost by way of some attempt to make the climate easier for vaping.
ASH estimates that electronic cigarettes, the subject of today’s Motions, are used by around 2.8 million adults in Great Britain, with users made up almost entirely of current and ex-smokers. Vapers report using these products to help them cut down or quit altogether. But we must understand that electronic cigarettes are not a magic bullet. There are still some 9 million smokers in our country and our policies need to be broader than just encouraging smokers to switch to vaping. E-cigarettes help people trying to stop, but only when they are supported by stop smoking services—my noble friend Lord Hunt referred to the regrettable cut in budgets for those services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, mentioned the Royal College of Physicians, whose report said that, although electronic cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking, the health effects of long-term use are not yet known. Given the absence of long-term evidence and the addictiveness of nicotine, it is right and necessary that the regulations strike a cautionary note. It would be helpful for the Government to develop a review process which monitored the developing evidence on electronic cigarettes, published interim conclusions and ensured that public health organisations and users were fully consulted.
The House needs to be aware of the role of the tobacco industry in the nicotine and electronic cigarette market—the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, referred to the activities of the tobacco industry during the passage of the various pieces of legislation through Parliament. Its involvement includes the growing of the tobacco from which nicotine is extracted, and the buying-up of small, independent electronic cigarette manufacturers, as well as the manufacturers of new products. Investment in e-cigarettes by the tobacco industry also offers opportunities for it to claim legitimacy and get a foot in the door for re-engaging with policymakers. I cannot believe that anybody would like to see that happen.