Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 4th July 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 8:30 pm, 4th July 2016

My Lords, first I congratulate my noble friend Lord Callanan on the very excellent case that he put. I shall not proceed by repeating any of the arguments. I have looked at the regulations, but some people who have spoken in the debate clearly have not.

If someone wanted to sabotage a product, add to the costs of producing that product, limit the scope for competition with that product, and drive out of business small producers, it is hard to see how a more effective job could be done than in respect of the regulations that apply to electronic cigarettes. As far as noble Lords who argued that this is all a plot by the tobacco companies is concerned, one way of ensuring that all of this ends up in the hands of large businesses will be by pursuing exactly these regulations—by limiting choice and, of course, by creating a black market, which will be accessed through the internet, as we have seen occur over and over again in respect of medicinal products.

There seems to be no logic in the regulations. We have already touched on the point on why some advertising is allowed but not others. I find it extraordinary that a Government should want to ban advertising when the evidence that we had from ASH—the noble Lord referred to that—states:

“Perceptions of harm from electronic cigarettes have grown with only 15% of the public accurately believing in 2016 that electronic cigarettes are a lot less harmful than smoking”.

If most people do not realise the benefits of it, what on earth is the logic of preventing people advertising it? How does the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, explain that she wants a public information campaign? How can we have a public information campaign without advertising the benefits of electronic cigarettes? Therefore, why is she against the advertising of electronic cigarettes? There is no logic in that.

I hope that noble Lords do not mind me mentioning the fact that my son is 37 years old. He has smoked cigarettes since he was 16, to the best of my knowledge, and probably earlier. He smoked very heavily, but three Christmases ago—I should declare an interest—I bought him an electronic cigarette. As a result, he has reduced the levels of nicotine and of all the things that we have tried—blackmail, bullying, nicotine patches, and everything under the sun—it has worked. The figures show that one-third of the 2.8 million adults who are vaping in this country are ex-smokers. The arguments being put for the public health benefits are overwhelming.

It pains me to say this, but this is a classic example of gold-plating of European regulations by the UK health department. The point is that, because the regulations are gold-plated, there is nothing we can do about it. They are EU regulations and we are required to implement them. I wonder what on earth was going on in the Department of Health that made it do this.

When we see something absurd happening, we should ask, “Cui bono?”. Who benefits from this? Certainly the Government benefit from it because people who are continuing to smoke cigarettes will pay a very considerable amount in tax to the Exchequer. I do not know how much a packet of cigarettes costs, as I have never smoked my life, but I am told it is about £9 for 20 cigarettes. People who start vaping will not spend that in a week. For those families on low incomes—and many of the people who smoke heavily are among the lowest income families—will benefit from something which enables them to deal with the addiction that they have to nicotine and remove themselves from it. Who benefits from this? Certainly not the people who are among the poorest in our country who are smokers. The Exchequer benefits—the Treasury benefits—if people are still smoking cigarettes because it gets its tax on the cigarettes which is very considerable. Of course, the pharmaceutical companies, which sell the nicotine patches, benefit. The tobacco companies benefit because people are not switching away.

So what on earth are the Government doing, promoting the interests of the tobacco companies and the large pharmaceuticals—because that is the effect of this? The detail in the regulations is unbelievable. They even spell out which typeface—Helvetica—appears on the warnings, and whether it should be bold or italic. That is North Korean stuff: it is utterly absurd regulation. We may laugh at it, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, pointed out, it means that small businesses up and down the country will have to comply with these regulations, work out what they mean, change all their literature and everything else, and, as a result, be driven out of business.

We are in a bit of a quandary here, because there is much in these regulations that is quite desirable. When we have left the European Union, we will be in a position where we can hold our Ministers to account, hold votes and actually make these things happen. I had not realised this very clever operation by the Department of Health. This is what you do: you have some absurd regulations, which you know you are not going to get through the House of Commons. So you persuade Brussels to include them in an EU directive; and heigh-ho, they have to sail through both Houses, because there is nothing we can do. We all take part in this pantomime, where we explain all the reasons why they should be changed, knowing full well that there is very little we can do about it until we leave the European Union.

So I congratulate my noble friend on his efforts and hope that, when the Government are free to do so, they will rethink these absurd regulations, which will undoubtedly cost lives. They are a classic example of how big business is able to use Brussels, together with lobbying organisations, to the disadvantage—and, in this case, life-threatening disadvantage—of the citizens of this country.