Tobacco and Vapes Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 am on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP 11:00, 21 May 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the UK Tobacco and Vapes Bill extending to Northern Ireland insofar as the provisions of that Bill relate to matters falling within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Business Committee has agreed that there should be no time limit on the debate.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

In October 2023, the UK Government announced their intention to create a smoke-free generation in England by stopping children who turned 15 this year, or younger, from ever legally being sold cigarettes. They proposed that the consultation be UK-wide, with a view to aligning our policy approaches where doing so would improve outcomes, and allowing for collective action to tackle the harm caused by tobacco use and youth vaping.

A UK-wide consultation concluded in December 2023. Following that consultation, Health Ministers in Scotland and Wales agreed in principle to those countries being included in a UK-wide Bill, subject to the necessary legislative consents. The return of our Assembly allowed a brief opportunity for a review of Northern Ireland's position on the matter. I subsequently indicated to the UK Government my support for the inclusion of Northern Ireland, subject to the necessary consent from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. On 21 February, the First Minister and the deputy First Minister agreed in principle to the progression of a legislative consent motion (LCM) and to a legislative consent memorandum concerning Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill.

The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 20 March. My Department provided oral and written briefings on the Bill to the Committee for Health, and it agreed to support the motion at its meeting on 18 April. I thank my Executive colleagues and the Committee for Health for their support and timely response.

It may be helpful to Members if I now summarise the provisions of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. The current legal age for the sale of tobacco is 18. The Westminster Bill will make it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products. The measures are in line with the recommendations made in the Khan review of England's smoke-free ambition, which was published in 2022.

I make it clear from the outset that there is no intention to criminalise smoking. Existing adult smokers will not be stopped from buying or smoking cigarettes, although I urge them to seek the help of local cessation services to help them quit, owing to the very harmful impacts of any amount of tobacco smoke on health.

The policy intention is therefore to stop people from ever starting to smoke, thus preventing a lifetime of addiction. The impact will be that children currently aged 15 and under, who are not currently legally permitted to be sold tobacco, will not be able to be sold tobacco legally when they turn 18 and beyond. The onus will be on the seller, and any offences will be committed by the seller and not the individual who makes the purchase, unless the purchaser is doing so on behalf of someone who is under the legal age of sale, which is so-called proxy purchasing.

The Bill will make the necessary age-related changes to existing compulsory retail signage and proxy purchasing offences. The key provisions on e-cigarettes, or vapes, are regulation-making powers, which will allow for a number of measures to be put in place. Those include restrictions on vape flavours and packaging and bans on point-of-sale displays for all nicotine products and vapes. There are already similar measures in place for tobacco products.

The current e-cigarette manufacturer notification system operating in GB will also be able to be extended to include other nicotine products and non-nicotine vapes, and those provisions may also be extended to Northern Ireland with our consent. Currently, manufacturers that access the Northern Ireland market are required to notify nicotine-containing e-cigarettes on the EU common entry gate (EU-CEG) system, but there are no EU requirements for non-nicotine vapes or other nicotine products.

In addition, the age restrictions that currently apply to nicotine vapes will be able to be extended to include non-nicotine vapes through Northern Ireland regulations, and we will be able to address current loopholes in the free distribution to children of non-nicotine vapes and nicotine products. It is intended that Parts 4 and 5 of the Bill, which deal with product standards, such as flavours, packaging and manufacturing notifications, will be addressed through UK-wide regulations made by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. They may relate to public health issues or consumer protection, so Northern Ireland's inclusion in those regulations will be subject to our consent.

The Secretary of State has committed to further consultation on regulatory proposals for product standards for vapes, such as flavour restrictions, and there will be ongoing engagement with the devolved Administrations to ensure an agreed, evidence-based approach to such regulations.

Regulations on provisions about point-of-sale display, free distribution of vapes and age-of-sale restrictions on non-nicotine vapes will be made locally by my Department and will be subject to the draft affirmative resolution procedure in the Assembly. We have agreed to a Committee for Health request to engage with it and also with the Youth Assembly on subsequent regulations.

On a technical point, and for the record, I bring to the House's attention an amendment that I requested to the powers in clause 53, which the Westminster Bill's scrutiny Committee has accepted. On the advice of the Department of Justice's offences and penalties experts and the Office of the Legislative Counsel (OLC), I have requested that the penalty for any such offence created by regulations align with those for the age-of-sale offence. That is to be a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum. That, in turn, allows for the use of a fixed penalty notice in relation to offences created through subsequent regulations.

I will summarise the results of the UK-wide public consultation that was held late last year. The results were published on 29 January. There is particularly strong support for the measures from the people in Northern Ireland. The consultation received 27,025 responses from individuals, 1,221 of which were from Northern Ireland, which equates to 4·5% of the total responses. That represents a high response rate in relation to the Northern Ireland population. Some 62·5% of UK respondents reported that they were in favour of the smoke-free generation proposal, with the highest support coming from Northern Ireland, at 79%. Similarly, support was much higher in Northern Ireland for the other proposals, which included 75·6% supporting a restriction on vape flavours; 85·3% supporting a restriction on the display of vapes; and 66% supportive of prohibiting the use of all imagery, colouring and branding.

Whilst the Bill contains provisions that clearly fall within the competence of the Assembly, as they address public health or consumer protection matters, bringing forward our own primary legislation could pose a number of risks. Therefore, Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Bill offers the most expedient way of bringing forward these measures. If we were to progress through our own primary legislation, there would be opportunity costs, as we would have to redirect resources to such legislation. It is also unlikely that we would be able to bring the measures forward at the same pace as the rest of the United Kingdom, and that would put Northern Ireland's population at a disadvantage in these important public health measures.

Given the overwhelming public support in Northern Ireland for the measures, it is my duty to seek the same provisions as those offered in the other devolved Administrations. I believe that we would face considerable public criticism if we were to reject this opportunity. It is also expected that there will be strong opposition to the Bill from the tobacco industry and that legal challenges are possible. I believe that they would be better dealt with by a UK Government on behalf of all the UK.

I turn now to why I believe we need these measures. I am sure that Members are well aware of the harms caused by tobacco and of the growing concern over vaping, especially by young people. Those harms are the reasons why the legislation is so important for Northern Ireland. I will recap on some of the key facts on tobacco. Tobacco use is the number-one cause of preventable illness and premature death. Each year, more than 2,000 people in Northern Ireland die from smoking-attributable conditions, as smoking increases the risk of more than 50 serious health conditions. For example, it accounts for 70% of lung cancer cases and over one in four of all cancer deaths. Tobacco use also increases, substantially, the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes, and it increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight. It is also of great concern that people with serious mental health conditions die 10 or 20 years earlier, and the biggest single factor in that is smoking.

Smoking is also a major cause of health inequality. Smoking rates in Northern Ireland's most-deprived areas are typically more than two and a half times higher than those in the least-deprived areas, and, subsequently, children of those smokers are more likely to smoke. Those inequalities manifest themselves in health outcomes, with the incidence of lung cancer in the most-deprived areas being two and a half times higher than that in the least-deprived areas. Therefore, smoking-attributable death rates in our deprived areas are double those in the least-deprived areas. My Department has a long-standing strategic aim of achieving a tobacco-free society. The generational approach to eliminating tobacco use that is proposed in the Bill offers a groundbreaking means by which to address this key public health threat for young people and future generations.

I have listened to some argue that this is nanny statism, suggesting that the smoke-free generation proposals will deprive people of freedom of choice and that the decision to smoke or not smoke should be a personal choice. Sadly, smoking has little to do with personal choice. It results from an addiction to nicotine that usually starts at a young age. It is an addiction that is notoriously hard to overcome, and it has deadly consequences.

Smoking kills up to two thirds of smokers and, as I outlined, increases the risk of multiple serious health conditions. Three quarters of smokers say that they would never start if they had the choice again. I heard the Chief Medical Officer in England recount his observations of a smoker who had undergone limb amputations as a result of smoking and was crying as they lit yet another cigarette. That is how addictive smoking is. I can think of no better law than one that would prevent that misery for our future generations.

Smoking does not just impact on smokers; it impacts on non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke and on families dealing with the illness and death of loved ones. Unfortunately, it also has implications for us all as taxpayers and users of health services. Members are all too aware of the financial pressures that our health service faces. In 2019-2020, Northern Ireland hospitals spent £218 million treating smoke-attributable conditions. The same year, there were 38,617 smoking-attributable hospital admissions. Every penny spent on treating tobacco-related illness is avoidable. The harsh reality is that that is money that our hospitals could use to address other pressures.

Once the Bill passes into law, the age-of-sale changes will not be commenced until January 2027. If the Assembly agrees to Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Bill, we will use that lead time to engage with councils on enforcement functions and will continue to work closely with the UK Government on the development of guidance for retailers.

I want to say a few words regarding our growing concern about the detrimental impact of vaping, particularly on young people. Vaping rates among young people here continue to rise, and recent Young Persons' Behaviour and Attitudes Survey data shows that current e-cigarette use rose from 5·7% in 2019 to 9·2% in 2020. However, among year 12 pupils, the growth in current use has been particularly concerning, with reported current use rising from 11·7% in 2019 to 23·6% in 2022.

While-cigarettes may have a role to play in helping some people to stop smoking, the long-term harms of continued use are still unknown. The Institute of Public Health in Ireland took forward a rapid review of evidence on behalf of its Department and found strong, high-quality evidence of an association between e-cigarette use and subsequent tobacco cigarette use based on longitudinal data. The reviews included found that those who had used e-cigarettes in their lifetime had over three times the risk of tobacco cigarette use at follow-up. Those results support a conclusion that there is a gateway effect of those products. That substantiates my view and that of our Chief Medical Officer (CMO) that robust measures to address the appeal of those products to children are justified.

The World Health Organization points to nicotine's deleterious impact on brain development, potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders. The UK Government Command Paper relating to these proposals also includes the fact that there are high health risks associated with the other ingredients in vapes. The long-term health harms of inhaling colours and flavours are yet unknown, but they are certainly unlikely to be beneficial.

In addition, there are growing concerns about the social and educational harms of vaping, with increasing numbers of post-primary schoolchildren at risk of disciplinary action, including suspensions, as schools attempt to deal with the number of children vaping on school premises.

I turn now to the regulatory impact assessments that have been carried out. The smoke-free generation measures will result in some cost to retailers in lost profits, training costs and additionality. However, on a whole-economy basis, those are outweighed by the social benefits. The UK Government have published a UK-wide impact assessment, and the net present value for the Bill is estimated at £18·6 billion over 30 years. In other words, there will be a net benefit of £18·6 billion over the next 30 years to the UK economy, and that takes account of the healthcare and societal costs associated with smoking tobacco. Secondary legislation relating to vapes would be subject to further detailed impact assessments.

Members may want to note that further restrictions on tobacco and e-cigarettes may come with some additional enforcement and communication costs. However, several of the measures are not new. For example, enforcement measures are already in place on the age of sale for tobacco and nicotine vapes. We will, of course, engage with enforcement authorities and the Public Health Agency (PHA) on those matters.

Regarding human rights and an equality impact assessment (EQIA), the Department of Health and Social Care in England has confirmed that the Bill is compatible with the convention of rights. The UK screening exercise concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that a smoke-free generation policy will have a significant negative impact on people who live in rural areas or those with protected characteristics. In recognition of our local equality obligations, my Department has also completed screening exercises that will be published shortly and which have reached the same conclusions.

I have received correspondence from Members, councillors and parents seeking additional measures to set smoke-free targets and to allow us to tackle the problems of youth vaping. While we have made good progress in reducing youth smoking rates in Northern Ireland, there is no room for complacency. Every year, approximately 127,000 new smokers are recruited across the United Kingdom. The UK Government Bill offers us a key opportunity to address the issues and to address them quickly. I ask Members to support the motion.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin 11:15, 21 May 2024

I welcome the opportunity to confirm the Health Committee's support for the motion that the Minister of Health has brought to the House. The harmful impact of smoking on health is well known and cannot be overstated. As the Health Minister outlined, around 2,200 people die from smoke-related illnesses each year in the North. Many more people live with the debilitating effects of smoke-related illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as many other life-limiting conditions. The avoidable illnesses, diseases and deaths that smoking causes are unacceptable in this day and age. We also know that tobacco use is a leading cause of health inequalities, with smoking prevalence rates higher among people who live in areas of social and economic deprivation. The Department's 2023 review of the most recent tobacco control strategy reported that inequalities in smoking prevalence also persisted among other groups, particularly those with mental ill health.

The Committee welcomes the extension of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, as the measures in it will unquestionably provide significant health benefits here, particularly for our young people. As the Minister outlined, by prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to people born on or after 1 January 2009, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill will introduce measures to stop people ever starting smoking and becoming addicted to tobacco products. The Committee wholeheartedly endorses the measure. It will surely go a considerable way towards realising the ambition of achieving a smoke-free generation in the future. However, the Committee acknowledges that the legislation is not a silver bullet. Whilst it contains provisions that will protect future generations, it does not contain measures that target the current generation of smokers. The Health Committee therefore looks forward to engaging with the Department of Health in its development of a new tobacco strategy, which must contain specific measures that will support existing smokers to quit. In particular, it must contain measures that target the groups in which smoking rates are highest.

As the Minister outlined, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill will also introduce measures aimed at tackling increased rates of youth vaping, including measures to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children. When we consulted Youth Assembly Members on the Bill, they told us that they were also concerned about the increasing rates of vaping amongst their peers. They told us that they were particularly concerned about the unknown impacts of vaping on health and the evident impact that disposable vapes have on our environment.

The concerns that the Youth Assembly expressed were supported by the Institute of Public Health, which also provided evidence on the Bill to the Health Committee. The institute advised the Committee that it had carried out an evidence review to support the Department of Health in responding to concerns about youth vaping. That review found strong, high-quality evidence of an association between vaping and subsequent cigarette use, supporting the idea of those products having a gateway effect. The review also found evidence to support the association between vaping and physical and mental ill health and other substance use.

The Committee shares the concerns expressed by the Youth Assembly and the Institute of Public Health about vaping. We are particularly concerned about the obvious targeting of the youth market with flavouring and packaging that is appealing to young people. The Committee notes that the Bill contains regulation-making powers that will make provisions in respect of point-of-sale displays, restriction of product flavours and packaging and age-of-sale requirements for non-nicotine vapes. The Committee therefore requests that the Minister and his officials engage with the Health Committee at the earliest opportunity on the development of the local regulations for which the Minister of Health has responsibility and the broader regulations for which the Secretary of State has responsibility.

I welcome the confirmation from the Department that the £100 fixed penalty notice for the underage sale of tobacco and vaping products outlined in the legislation will not apply here and that the fixed penalty notice here will be £250. The Committee requested, in recognition of the particular concerns that the Youth Assembly raised in relation to vaping, that the Minister and his officials make meaningful efforts to engage with our young people and, in particular, the Youth Assembly on the future regulation of vapes and vaping products. The Health Committee shares the concerns articulated by the Youth Assembly on the potential harms caused by vaping products and recognises the lack of available research on the subject. We request that the Department supports research into developing an evidence base to widen our understanding of the impacts of vaping products on health.

I thank the members of the Youth Assembly who met the Committee on the LCM. I and other Committee members were impressed by their ability to convey their opinions and give their real-life experiences of smoking and vaping. I look forward to engaging with them more over the next number of years. I thank the Institute of Public Health for its engagement with the Committee on research in the area and for providing further briefing papers in advance of the debate. I also thank the departmental officials for their briefings and responses throughout the Committee's consideration of the LCM.

I confirm the Committee's support for the Minister's motion, which asks the Assembly to support the extension of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. The Committee agrees with the Minister that the measures in the Bill offer a huge public health opportunity that cannot be missed and that will go a considerable way towards the ambition of creating a smoke-free generation. That is an ambition that the Health Committee fully endorses and supports.

I will now make a few remarks in my capacity as Sinn Féin's health spokesperson. My party also fully supports the LCM, having recently met various organisations, including Cancer Research, Asthma + Lung UK, Cancer Focus, Chest, Heart and Stroke and the British Heart Foundation, all of which endorse this very important legislation and the role that it can play in improving the health of our communities, particularly in reducing the prevalence of preventable cancers and other medical conditions. However, we acknowledge that that will take time and that we must do more in the interim to support smokers to quit and raise greater awareness of the serious implications for our health from smoking. That will undoubtedly be impacted by the challenges facing public health campaigns as a result of funding difficulties. However, we must acknowledge the long-term impact of not providing education and support to smokers and those who may take up smoking.

I also want to hear more about what progress has been made with the Minister's counterparts in the South of Ireland in an effort to align policies around tobacco use and vaping. Coming from a border area, I know that it is important that the LCM does not open up opportunities for a black market for these products, which would inevitably have a counterproductive effect.

I look forward to seeing the LCM progress — hopefully, we will get answers to the queries raised — to ensure that the legislation will deliver for the people here and make a significant impact on improving health in our communities for future generations.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

The LCM that we are debating and being asked to support is part of our collective effort to create a smoke-free society, and it is welcome. The SDLP will support the motion, because, if we are serious about establishing a smoke-free society, this is an important step towards that.

I know that it is not easy legislation for some people. I know that many hold genuine concerns over the restriction of cigarettes and, indeed, vaping. There were similar views when the ban on smoking indoors was introduced in 2006. I hope that we noted that the sky did not fall in then, and it will be the same on this occasion.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 11:30, 21 May 2024

I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member accept that some of the concerns about the legislation and the LCM are to do with their workability and the difficulty with that? The Minister and the Chair of the Committee outlined some of the evidence that was received, and the Minister suggested that there would be opposition from the tobacco industry. Has the Committee — or anyone — heard of opposition from anywhere else? Have opinions been sought from Retail NI, for example, on workability and how the implications will affect shopworkers in particular?

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank my colleague for those remarks. They highlight, again, the complexities with this and the fact that the Bill is probably one of those that is easier on paper than it will be in action. It will cause significant issues on the high street. It will cause problems, even flashpoints, at points of sale. Thankfully, the rigorous consultation, which was implemented across the UK and to which the Minister suggested that people in the North made significant contributions, showed that an overwhelming majority, nearly 80%, wanted to see the ban. When we get that sort of feedback from people, it is incumbent upon us to act.

The dangers posed by direct and indirect smoking have been well known for some time. The industry has thrived on and been the source of addiction, which is a key driver of health inequalities. We cannot underscore that enough. It is really obvious. The facts and figures absolutely show that there is inequality when it comes to the socio-economic backgrounds of those who smoke, and we therefore know exactly what the impact is on those people's health. It is really important that we do all that we can to remove the scourge of the impact of smoking. It has been the cause of untold numbers of deaths around the world as a result of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and, indeed, diabetes. Here in Northern Ireland, over 2,300 people lose their lives as the result of smoking-related illnesses each year.

I make these comments as a former smoker. I know how hard it is to quit. It is incredibly difficult to give up smoking, but I did so because I wanted to enjoy a long and full life. I wanted to be able to go for a run and not have to stop halfway to try to catch my breath. I wanted to be able to go out to eat a meal and enjoy the taste of the food. This is for anybody who has never smoked: smoking robs you of that. You cannot taste the food that you eat, nor do you have the full range of your sense of smell. You are not able to smell the smells around you. When you give up smoking, within a very short period, those are some of the things that come back to you quite quickly. Fundamentally, however, I did not want to die of a smoking-related illness that I knew that I could have helped to prevent. What would all of that have been for? Simply to line the pockets of some tobacco corporation in an industry that made £10 billion in revenue last year. I know that the health benefits that I have enjoyed for the past 20-plus years since I stopped smoking far outweigh any pleasure that I got from smoking.

When it comes to vaping, the issues are somewhat more complex. E-cigarettes appeared only in the past decade or so, and the research into the health impacts of vapes is somewhat sketchy. We know that many of them contain nicotine, however. While they may help to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked, they still contain an addictive compound. It is in dealing with the e-cigarette side that I have a few concerns about the motion, and I ask the Minister to comment on those in his winding-up speech. First, if we want people to successfully transition from smoking, one of the easiest ways is for them to "step down" by moving to vapes. The problem is that, if we make it socially unacceptable to vape — it becomes stigmatised; you go into a shop where the products have no packaging, and there is nothing to attract a person who smokes to them — I fear that it may actually prevent us from getting people off smoking. At the same time, I appreciate that we cannot have an industry that abuses that and makes vaping very attractive to children and young people.

The second concern, which my colleague mentioned earlier, is around the workability of the Bill and its enforceability. How do the Government expect this to be enforced? Will every person, regardless of age, now be asked to produce identification? If we fast-forward 30 or 40 years, will we be in a scenario where a 16-year-old working in a shop has to ask a 70-year-old to produce ID to tell them whether they are 70 or 71? There could be some problems there, and, as I said, it could create a flashpoint at the point of sale.

I acknowledge and thank the Youth Assembly for the role that its members played in the Committee's consideration of the Bill when we met them. Fundamentally, given that there is that age restriction in the Bill, those young people will be the generation most impacted by it, and it was an excellent opportunity to go along, listen to their views and be assured that their views were considerable. They were almost unanimous in saying that they agree with the outworkings of the Bill. In some instances, they wanted to see restrictions going further than those in the Bill. It was an excellent example of youth participation in decision-making in this Building, which is something that I want to acknowledge and welcome.

I remind Members that we cannot debate this legislative consent motion as if it is some sort of panacea that will deliver the best possible health outcomes. Rather, it has to be seen as one of a suite of options for how we improve the health of our society. I know that the Minister is here today to fulfil his duty as Health Minister, but there are other issues, such as encouraging active travel, ensuring nitrate-free school meals and establishing greener and cleaner spaces for communities, that all Executive Ministers must live up to. I hope that some of those other initiatives can be brought forward so that we can try to improve the overall health of our society.

In conclusion, we know that the enjoyability of smoking or vaping is outweighed by the health benefits of not doing so. For that reason, I am content to support the motion.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

I offer my support and that of my party for the extension of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill to Northern Ireland. It is important that we are part of the UK-wide legislation. All of us in the Chamber today will unite around the aim of having a smoke-free society in Northern Ireland, but, as the Member who spoke previously just illustrated, it is vital that the legislation that is brought forward to tackle what is a very great harm in society is properly assessed and is fair, deliverable and workable.

We all know the harm that is caused by smoking. The report published by the Northern Ireland Audit Office in January this year reiterated that smoking is the main cause of illness and early death in Northern Ireland, contributing to around 2,200 deaths each year and one in four of all deaths from cancer. Those are very stark statistics for us to reflect upon. Research also suggests that the life expectancy of each smoker is shortened for each cigarette smoked. Smoking also affects others, whether it is an unborn child or those who inhale second-hand smoke through passive smoking.

Yesterday, it was a delight to welcome to the Assembly Cathy Brokenshire, who is visiting us in Northern Ireland. Cathy is the wife of the late James Brokenshire, who died from lung cancer despite never having smoked in his life. I look forward to the autumn, when we will bring an event to the Assembly to discuss the harms of smoking, lung cancer and, indeed, passive smoking. It was a real honour to be able to facilitate that visit yesterday.

Smoking also results in high costs to the health and social services sector. We are indebted to around 600 smoking cessation specialist services that provide their services free of charge to people across Northern Ireland, because it is a difficult addiction to break. We need to help people to do so and work in that particular area.

The Bill as drafted has significant challenges. I hope that, as it progresses through Parliament, some of the issues will be dealt with in the scrutiny of the Bill. Our parliamentary team will work to try to use their influence in relation to that. As I have previously said, a generational smoking ban is well intentioned, but its success will ultimately rely on implementation and enforcement arrangements that can work and that do not unduly restrict the rights of retailers and consumers. There are some doubts at the moment as to whether the Bill as drafted meets those requirements. Concerns have been raised by retailers and shopkeepers that they could be criminalised under the new smoking ban and unfairly deemed to have permitted sales to those covered by this generational problem. Given that the overwhelming majority of cigarettes are bought from local shops, we need to be clear on enforcement, and we need to make sure that we do not criminalise the retailer. I am glad to hear that some work has been done on clause 53 of the Bill, because I think that that is very important.

Age verification is another issue that will have to be looked at. As Colin McGrath said, if the Bill is successful, we need to understand how we will work out in years to come whether a person is 29 or 30, or that 30-year-old is asking a 29-year-old to buy cigarettes for them. That is really important, because legislation is only useful if it is workable, and we need to work out that conundrum. We also need to remember that asking for proof of age is one of the greatest triggers for violence and abuse of retailers. Often, young people work in local shops, and they will have to take that abuse. We really need to work on that element of the Bill.

The other element of the Bill that gives us some concern is the issue around vapes. This is a new industry, and it needs to be regulated. That is very important. So far, the Bill does not really lend itself to a great deal in that respect. We need to know the content, we need to know the flavours, and we need to know how this will come forward. We do not want, in 20 years' time, to be talking about the harms of vaping in the same way that we talk about the harms of tobacco. That is very important. It is also particularly important that we get some sense of those regulations. I suspect that they are some way down the line, so we will be passing something that deals with smoking but does not really deal with vaping, in the hope that those regulations will come forward.

In closing, I ask the Minister whether he and his officials have considered the applicability of the Bill in Northern Ireland, given the fact that the Windsor framework has stopped legislation on Rwanda and on aspects of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023. It is important that we are honest with people in Northern Ireland and that we understand that as well.

I pay tribute to the Youth Assembly for its conversations around the Bill. It is really important that the voice of young people is heard in all these things. It is really concerning that some schools that I visit report such an increase in vaping among young people.

Our young people have to deal with those harms. It was brilliant to hear their voices and understand that. I look forward to working with them as we move forward.

I confirm our support for Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Bill. I would like to hear the Minister address in his response some of the issues that are pertinent to the working of the Bill.

Photo of Nuala McAllister Nuala McAllister Alliance 11:45, 21 May 2024

I am happy to support the LCM to create a smoke-free generation by ensuring that no one born on or after 1 January 2009 will be able to buy tobacco in their lifetime. It will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, and Northern Ireland will become a world leader on the issue. The fact that the Health Minister engaged with the UK Government to ensure that Northern Ireland was included in the legislation must be welcomed. Ultimately, it is a public health measure designed to protect the population from the harmful effects of smoking. Like many MLAs, I have engaged with Cancer Research UK and Cancer Focus NI. They both highlight the fact that tobacco is the biggest cause of cancer and death in Northern Ireland, with one person dying every three hours as a result of tobacco use and around 1,500 tobacco-related cancer deaths each year in NI.

Beyond the undeniable human impact, there is an economic impact on the health sector. I agree with the Minister and other Members that spending over £200 million a year to treat smoking-related conditions is not acceptable. On a day when we will discuss the impact of financial pressures on the Department of Health, that cannot be overlooked. It is also important to note the socio-economic aspect. As other Members have highlighted, the NI Audit Office (NIAO) has stated that the rate of deaths per 100,000 as a result of smoking-related illnesses is 98% higher in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. As a representative for North Belfast, one of the most economically deprived constituencies in the country, I am particularly keen to ensure that my constituents are protected from the harm that cigarettes cause.

I am glad to see the cross-departmental approach that is being taken to tackling the harms of smoking and tobacco. I thank my colleague Andrew Muir, the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, for taking decisive action by announcing a ban on disposable vapes.

For the legislation under discussion today to be successful, there also needs to be robust enforcement by relevant agencies. I thank the Minister for his interaction with the UK Government to ensure that the fixed penalty notice is set at £250. We are yet to see whether that will be enough, however. It will take time, and enforcement is important.

I will touch on the issue of vapes. The evidence is not clear as to the harmful effects of vaping, but let us be honest: there is no evidence to suggest that it is medically, ethically or socially acceptable for children to buy or use vapes, especially children dressed in a school uniform. There is no excuse for any shop or retail worker accepting or allowing the selling of vapes to children. I respect the fact that the onus will be on the seller. We need to ensure that we have appropriate advertising and appropriate engagement with the retail sector. Hopefully, the Minister can touch on that in his response.

I will also focus a little on the role of councils. We are all aware of the many constituents who come to us about the sale of vapes or cigarettes to under-18s. It takes councils a number of weeks to ensure that enforcement action is taken against those who sell vapes or cigarettes to under-18s. With the legislation coming into effect, we will need to ensure that there is greater support for councils to take action.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the issues that I have raised. The legislation to ensure that we have a smoke-free generation is a positive step for Northern Ireland towards being a world leader. I look forward to working again with young people from across Northern Ireland and to hearing their voices when it comes to the regulations taking effect. I also thank Cancer Research UK for its engagement with the Committee and individual MLAs on the matter.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

I and my party very much welcome today's LCM. As has been said, tobacco is the largest cause of cancer in Northern Ireland and accounts for over 2,000 deaths locally every year. It is a fact that nothing would have a bigger impact on reducing the number of preventable deaths across the United Kingdom than ending smoking. It is also a huge contributing factor to the persistently high levels of health inequality in Northern Ireland.

The vast majority of people who smoke become addicted to smoking as a child. Therefore, it is clear that, if we as a society are to truly tackle the problem, we need to focus most efforts on limiting the number of young people taking up smoking in the first place. Whilst I acknowledge the initiatives and measures already in place, as well as applauding the huge beneficial work being achieved by our smoking cessation teams, it is clear, regrettably, that children and young people continue to start smoking. It has been more widely accepted over recent years, and I heard our local Chief Medical Officer recently state that tobacco is the only consumer product that kills up to two thirds of its users.

We need to do something different, and, this time, we need to be even more ambitious. That is why I welcome the UK Government's consultation on a smoke-free generation and their decision to include Northern Ireland in that. The timing of the restoration of the institutions in early February was apt, as it came just in time for the Minister and his officials to move swiftly to work with the UK Government to secure Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Bill. I congratulate the Minister and his team on achieving that. Today's LCM is a key stage in the process. From the previous public consultation, it is clear that what the UK Bill and today's LCM will do has strong public support here; in fact, it is even greater than the UK average.

In addition, it is clear that the proposals have clear public health and clinician support. I am, however, aware of some dispute about how the Bill sits alongside the Windsor framework. On that point, I will follow the advice of the local Departmental Solicitor's Office (DSO), the UK Government's legal teams and the UK Government, all of which are clear that this provides for an age restriction, not a ban. I can understand why the tobacco and vaping industries have a vested interest in trying to spin that line. Ultimately, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Bill will be challenged in whatever way possible. Despite that, the Bill is the right thing to do, and today's LCM is the right thing to do. I therefore fully support today's motion and again pay tribute to all the departmental staff and organisations that have been so critical in getting us to this point.

Photo of Danny Donnelly Danny Donnelly Alliance

I thank the Minister of Health for his work on the LCM, which I welcome the opportunity to support today. As the Chair of the Health Committee said, the Committee has considered it in detail. I thank departmental officials for their helpful updates and for answering our questions on the matter.

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of illness and premature death. It is also a key factor in health inequalities and life expectancy, often coinciding with social deprivation. For the purpose of this debate, what is particularly concerning is that, according to the health survey Northern Ireland 2022-23, approximately two thirds of adult smokers take up smoking before the age of 18 and over 80% before the age of 20. If we can prevent people below those ages from taking up smoking, there will be a huge reduction in lifelong smokers.

We have seen a concerning increase in the use of vapes over the last decade. Although vaping can be an effective tool to help smokers quit smoking, given that it is less harmful than smoking tobacco, it is associated with some short-term effects, including headaches, coughs and nausea, and the long-term effects are not yet known in detail. Disposable vapes are a concern not just because of the aforementioned health risks but because of their low prices and appealing packaging and flavours, which appear to be directly marketed at young people. Vaping products that contain nicotine are highly addictive and will create lifelong vapers, so the Bill's provisions to restrict the sale of vapes will, hopefully, reduce the attraction and the sale of vapes to young people.

I echo the Chair of the Health Committee's comments in thanking the Youth Assembly Members for their engagement with the Committee on the issue. I found their opinions and life experience very informative and useful to us. Like other Members, I look forward to working with them further.

The Bill offers an ambitious opportunity to create a smoke-free generation across the UK and in Northern Ireland, and we must do what we can to deliver that. As other Members have mentioned, the Bill is not perfect. There are procedural issues that need to be resolved over how it will work in the long term, including how the proof of age will be required in subsequent decades, as people born after 2009 move into middle age and beyond, and, more locally, how councils can be supported around enforcement with respect to vapes.

As a liberal party, we need to balance the competing rights and obligations in society and are not convinced that bans are always the answer, but it should be said that the Bill is not intended to ban smoking for anyone who can smoke today. Instead, the intention is to prevent anyone born in or after 2009 from ever being able to smoke. If it succeeds, it will fundamentally change our society for the better, preventing suffering from lots of smoking-related diseases that have been mentioned, saving thousands of lives and removing many of the associated pressures and costs to our health service. As a former smoker, I am familiar with how hard it is to quit smoking. As a nurse, on many occasions, I have seen people with smoking-related conditions that have had a huge impact on the quality and length of their life.

For those reasons, I am content to support the LCM, but I encourage the Minister to continue his engagement with UK Government colleagues to ensure that the Bill delivers as intended and, most importantly, is concluded before the end of the parliamentary term, which approaches quickly.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I certainly agree that proceeding with the legislative consent motion is the most expedient way to address the issue. I also share in the consensus that the essence of the Bill is desirable. Smoking is an indisputable killer in our society, and, therefore, that which we can do to diminish the death toll from smoking we should do. That is my starting point in all this.

Vaping is a largely unregulated industry, and I am not sure, unless the regulations under the Bill come up to spec, that it will be greatly regulated by those provisions. It is, undoubtedly, the gateway to smoking, and, therefore, if we are going to deal with smoking, we need to deal with vaping. I trust that, going forward, that is how it will be.

I want to look, however, at an aspect that has been glossed over to this point and was briefly mentioned by Mrs Dodds and Mr Chambers: whether, if we assent to a national Act of Parliament to deal with this issue, that Act of Parliament will be permitted to be applied in Northern Ireland because of the overriding effect of the Northern Ireland protocol. Or are we headed down the road of further subjugation of democratic will by EU diktat?

As the Minister knows, under article 5(4) of the protocol, a series of some 300 laws and areas of law set forth in annex 2 to the EU protocol are made applicable to Northern Ireland. One of those laws, as the Minister knows — he set it out in an answer to me: AQW 6192/22-27 — is one of the more than 60 areas of EU law that bind his Department, namely the tobacco products directive.

Whether we like it or not, that sets the legal parameters for Northern Ireland because of the protocol's hideous imposition of laws that we cannot change.

Article 24 of the tobacco products directive states:

"Member States"

— for this purpose, we are regarded, sadly, as a member state —

"may not ... prohibit or restrict the placing on the market of tobacco or related products".

The defining legal question is this: is a generational ban a restriction on placing tobacco on the market? There may be some guidance on that from what has happened in other countries. Back in 2022, Denmark, which is an EU member state, proposed a generational ban that is similar to this measure on those who were born after 2010, yet it withdrew the proposal because of conflict with the very EU law that also binds us. In an answer that was given in the Danish Parliament on 6 April 2022, the Ministry of Health said:

"The ministry ... therefore considers that a ban on the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to people born in 2010 or later would require an amendment of the European Tobacco Products Directive".

They did not proceed, because they believed, on their legal advice, that it was not possible to have a generational ban, because article 24 of the binding tobacco products directive, which equally applies to us, prohibits restriction of the marketing of tobacco.

Photo of Danny Donnelly Danny Donnelly Alliance

If I understand the Member correctly, he is suggesting that Brexit may prevent the LCM being applied to Northern Ireland. Is that correct?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

That is absolutely wrong. If we had got Brexit, we would not have this problem. We got the protocol instead, which keeps us subjugated to the EU and under its laws. The Member has not been listening, or, if he has been listening, he has not understood. Article 5(4) of his beloved protocol subjects Northern Ireland to this foreign law that we cannot change. That foreign law says that you cannot restrict the marketing of tobacco. It is the Alliance Party's protocol, which it demanded rigorous implementation of, that creates this dilemma. That is the legal reality.

It comes much closer to home, because the Irish Republic also contemplated a generational ban. Just last week, it indicated that it would not proceed but would instead increase the age limit for the sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21. It reported that it could not proceed with the generational ban because of the same EU directive, yet Mr Chambers tells us, "Oh, the government lawyers and the DSO are content that it is not a problem". Those are the same government lawyers who told us that the legacy Bill was not going to be a problem and that the migration issue was not a problem, yet we have seen, not once but twice, what happened in the High Court, when two Acts of the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom were struck down. Why? Because they did not comply with overriding EU law, subjugating the right of Parliament to legislate in Northern Ireland. It may well be that the Danes are right and that the Dublin lawyers are right that, because of our subjugation to foreign law, you cannot proceed in Northern Ireland with this Bill. I have no doubt that there will be legal challenge and that we will, ultimately, get an answer to it. If that answer is negative and that, yet again, a life-saving provision of the United Kingdom Parliament is prohibited from applying in Northern Ireland because of the supremacy of iniquitous EU law, I hope that those who are the cheerleaders for EU law will recognise what they have done.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Given that the Member has made a point that has been addressed by the Minister and which he has said may be tested at some point in the future, and that we are dealing with an issue that will save thousands and thousands of lives in the future, does he not feel that the length of time that he is taking to spin it for his personal political outcomes is a bit reckless and just a little bit tired, old and sick?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Member may be uncomfortable to hear what the legal outcome of his embracing and advocacy of a protocol actually is. If it turns out — I trust that it will not — that EU law trumps this Bill, and if it turns out that the lives that could be saved cannot be saved because of EU law, I trust that the Member will come to the House and acknowledge how wrong he was, both in supporting the protocol and in swiping away the legal realities that flow from it.

I have to express surprise that the Committee, in dealing with this legislative consent motion, does not seem, from what I can read in its minutes, to have ever addressed this issue. I would have thought that it would have taken legal advice on the matter, and it really is surprising that it did not. In the House today, I raise the flag of warning. No doubt, there will be vested interests in the tobacco industry that are willing to exploit this; of course there will. There may well be issues, arising from our subjugation to EU law, where EU law, prima facie, seems to say that you cannot do in a member state, which, sadly, we are still regarded as under the protocol, what this Bill seeks to do. If that is so, it will be an appalling situation, not just constitutionally but from a public health angle. If that happens, I trust that there will be enough honesty in the House to face up to the cause.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I am not sure that the approach laid out in the LCM is necessarily the correct one to tackle vaping and smoking. I say that because it is an initiative that was initially taken by a Tory Government that have underfunded health over the past 14 years and, in this place, for decades. They see enforcement and outlawing as a possible quick and easy way to make some headway on this important issue. The party that has underfunded health tells us that this is a measure that is being taken for health reasons. It is forcing charities to take up the slack to raise awareness of smoking and vaping and the associated health problems.

The Minister outlined some of the obvious health problems and complications associated with vaping. These are real and are not disputed by me or anybody else in this House. However, some of those same problems exist with tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs, and I do not think that anybody who is serious about tackling addiction and substance abuse would advocate for a prohibition model there. Prohibition did not, and does not, work with alcohol, and I am not sure that it will work with vaping. The reason why people vape, smoke or use any other drugs will not be tackled by a ban. We need to tackle the underlying issues of alienation, low pay, poverty and deprivation, which, obviously, are not mentioned in the Bill.

I am concerned about the Bill and its LCM leading to an unregulated underground market for vapes and similar products. That could put people at greater risk of taking products that are not ordered or checked in any way as people, be they paramilitaries or criminal gangs, seek to fill the void when the ban comes in. A better way to tackle the issue would be a properly funded public health approach and a campaign that talks aggressively about the dangers of smoking.

There are serious questions about the legislation allowing for enforcement. The Minister mentioned powers for councils, which have not been detailed, as far as I am aware. Also, a serious problem in our society is the incredibly high rate of stop-and-search of young people. I remain unconvinced that the LCM will not lead to more harassment and stop-and-search of young people, racial minorities and others.

Members talked about the Youth Assembly, but it was split on aspects of the Bill, such as the age restriction for the sale of tobacco. It is important to emphasise that. It is also worth mentioning that this Tory Government cut the NHS programmes specifically designed to stop people smoking, so I do not think that they have much interest in encouraging people not to smoke. In Britain, there has been an uptick among pregnant women not giving up smoking precisely because those programmes were cut.

There are holes in the Bill. I remain unconvinced that it will do what it says that it will do, and I would like the Minister to address some of the issues that I raised.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I call on the Minister of Health to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank all Members who contributed to the debate. I thank those who said that they will support the LCM. I am not sure of Mr Carroll's position. He raised questions, but I do not think that he indicated whether he supports the LCM.

I thank the Committee for its timely engagement on the LCM with officials and the Youth Assembly. That has proven to be helpful. Like others, I extend my thanks to the Youth Assembly for its extremely helpful contribution to this discussion. It is clear from that engagement that vaping is a key concern for young people. I am pleased that most Youth Assembly members were supportive of the Bill's proposals in that regard. As I said in my opening comments — this was reinforced by the Chair of the Committee — we will engage further with the Youth Assembly on these issues as our regulations are developed.

I turn now to the specific issues raised. The Chair of the Committee raised the issue of engagement with the Republic of Ireland. I think that Mr Allister touched on that as well. There are regular informal meetings between tobacco control officials in my Department and their equivalents in the Irish Republic. There have been regular updates on those developments, including on consultations in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland on smoking and vaping. There have been discussions with the Chief Medical Officer in the Republic of Ireland and direct engagements with the policy team there. Further engagement involved policy colleagues from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Stephen Donnelly, the Minister for Health, and Colm Burke, Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, announced on 14 May that the Irish Cabinet had approved a proposal for legislation that would increase the age of sale of tobacco to 21. We are aware that the adoption of Tobacco 21 in the Republic of Ireland will create cross-border divergence. In time, however, it will still mean that no one on the island under the age of 21 will be able legally to buy cigarettes. Tobacco 21 and the smoke-free generation measures aim to achieve the same end, acting on the same population group over the same period. Beyond the age of 21, therefore, the chances of becoming a regular smoker are significantly reduced, but a smoke-free generation approach is expected to continue to provide beneficial reductions in smoking initiation.

The Chair also mentioned that the tobacco industry has lobbied intensively against a number of progressive tobacco-control measures by raising fears of the black market and criminal activity, to which the Institute of Public Health referred in its recent report for the Health Committee. Evaluations of the impact of those measures, however, repeatedly conclude that they do not contribute to increased rates of out-of-country purchases of illicit tobacco or cross-border purchases of tobacco and tobacco products.

We are aware of the continued threat of illicit tobacco and the potential for it to dilute the effectiveness of legislative measures, but it is addiction to nicotine that drives the demand for illicit tobacco and vapes. With reduced addiction, we expect reduced demand. When the smoking age was increased from 16 to 18, the number of illicit cigarettes consumed fell by 25% and the smoking rates among 16- and 17-year-olds dropped by almost a third.

Mr McGrath and Mr Durkan raised the issue of how shopkeepers and retailers will have to deal with the outworkings of the Bill. Members will be aware that assaulting a shopworker will be made a separate offence in England and Wales as part of a Government response to a wave of retail crime. Our Justice Minister has indicated that assaulting a retail worker can already be prosecuted under existing laws here that are designed to protect any member of the public from harm. She indicated, however, that she will give further consideration to including protections for those workers in the proposed sentencing Bill. Therefore, additional work is being done in that area.

Mrs Dodds raised an issue about ensuring that the legislation was fair, deliverable and workable in bringing forward the regulations. I can confirm the powers that the Bill will introduce. It will provide powers to introduce a ban on the free distribution of nicotine products. Those powers will sit with my Department but will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure. The powers to regulate retail displays of nicotine products and non-nicotine vapes will also sit with my Department and will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure. When it comes to product standards and issues relating to e-cigarettes and nicotine products, the Secretary of State will bring forward UK-wide regulations, but that will be done with the consent of devolved Governments. Part 5 of the Bill provides the Secretary of State with UK-wide regulation-making powers on the potential extension of e-cigarette notifications, which would also have to be brought before the Assembly.

Mrs Dodds also mentioned the visit of Cathy Brokenshire, which was timely. Many in the House had great respect for James Brokenshire when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I thank Dame Arlene Foster for setting up the visit. Not only did Arlene and Cathy engage with party representatives but they met my Chief Medical Officer and deputy Chief Medical Officer on this issue. I look forward to further publicity and awareness events later in the year. I thank the Member for raising that.

She also mentioned that the legislation will move through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. She may not be aware of this, but, yesterday, I met Minister Andrea Leadsom, the sponsoring Minister for the Bill. She indicated that she will meet the DUP Westminster team later today to work through some of the issues that the Member raised. I look forward to the positive outworkings of that.

Mrs Dodds, along with other Members, raised the suggestion that retailers will be burdened with having to regularly distinguish between 39- and 40-year-olds when dealing with identification. That point does not take account of the already declining smoking rates among young people, which we hope, when combined with the Bill's measures, will result in a further decline in smoking prevalence among young people. While retailers may need to ID the cohort of smokers that are close to the legal-age boundary, it is expected that the number of smokers below the legal age of sale will continue to decline as a result of the legislation.

Photo of Nuala McAllister Nuala McAllister Alliance

I thank the Minister for focusing on the issue of the onus being on the retailer. Does he accept that there are retailers — often small retailers — who willingly and knowingly sell tobacco products to children, including those in school uniform, and that enforcement is key to making sure that that does not happen?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

The Member raised that in her contribution. I will come to that.

Working through the debate, I think that Mr McGrath mentioned cessation services. The tobacco strategy that has been talked about — the Committee Chair talked about it — is supported by the comprehensive action plan, which includes educational initiatives in schools. There is also, however, a stop smoking and vaping pilot service in schools in the south eastern area. The PHA is exploring models for supporting smoking cessation in disadvantaged communities, and there is continued investment in smoking cessation services. There is also an intention to further develop hospital inpatient smoking cessation support services.

Our CMO has been clear that e-cigarettes should only ever be used as a short-term measure, and only to assist smokers who choose to use them in their efforts to quit, recognising that other licensed and effective quality-controlled nicotine replacement products are available, free of charge, through the Northern Ireland smoking cessation services, so it is not always necessary to resort to vapes for that purpose.

Mrs Dodds spoke about the powers of the Secretary of State. There are provisions relating to vape and nicotine product standards that mirror the existing provisions in relation to tobacco that are set out in the Westminster Children and Families Act 2014. Those provisions allow for UK-wide regulations, with the consent, again, of devolved Administrations. As I said in my opening comments, I believe that there is a practical benefit to retaining as much consistency as possible in product rules, as a single regulation regime across the UK helps to ensure a coherent and operable enforcement regime in relation to those products.

Something was raised by Mrs Dodds, Mr Chambers and Mr Allister, whom I thank for his support and for rightly using his political mandate to raise his concerns in relation to the outworkings of the Bill. He referred to the EU tobacco products directive, which is listed under annex 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. Article 5(4) of the protocol states:

"Union law listed in Annex 2 ... shall also apply ... in ... Northern Ireland", but the tobacco products directive is concerned with the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and nicotine-containing products. It includes restrictions such as limitations on the nicotine content of e-cigarettes, requirements for the manufacturers to report on ingredients in tobacco products and e-cigarettes, and a requirement for the provision of information to customers, including health warnings on packaging. Potential EU barriers were considered, in conjunction with the UK Government, during the development of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. We remain unaware of any barriers presented by the Windsor framework to the measures set out in the Bill being applied in Northern Ireland. I specifically raised that with Minister Leadsom yesterday, and she provided me with the reassurance that the work of her and my departmental officials and the legal advice that she has received indicates that that will not be an impediment.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Windsor framework impediment is the unaltered protocol of 5(4) and the application of the tobacco products directive, which applies to the sale of tobacco. Is the Minister not concerned about the examples of the Danish Government and the Irish Government? From what I read in the Irish press, the Irish Government say that their preliminary legal advice suggests that Ireland cannot pursue a smoke-free generation policy, as has been suggested in other jurisdictions, due to the EU single market rules and the tobacco products directive. Here are two EU member states — we are in the same pickle — that have said that they cannot do it. Does that not concern the Minister?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

It does concern me, as the Member knows, and that is why I raised that specific issue when I met Minister Leadsom yesterday. Our understanding, however, is that it is for the UK Government to ensure that Northern Ireland complies with the Windsor framework. Since this is a UK Government Bill, it will ultimately be for the UK Government to determine whether there are any barriers to our inclusion and to deal with any challenges in relation to that. I emphasise that we have been assured by the UK Government that no such barriers exist, but I recognise the Member's concerns and the position that he holds. I thank him for his support for the intent and the content of the LCM. I sincerely hope, for the sake of public health but also because of the Member's concerns, that it does not become an issue as a result of the Windsor framework and the protocol.

I will move on to the issue that Nuala McAllister raised about enforcement. As we know, age-of-sale restrictions already exist in Northern Ireland, and enforcement of them falls to our councils. The Department actively engages via the PHA and funds tobacco control officers to carry out test purchasing activity and to engage with retailers to support compliance with tobacco legislation. We envisage those arrangements continuing. We will engage again with councils in the coming weeks to seek their views on any additional operational challenges from the new regime. Council enforcement officers are represented on the tobacco strategy steering group, and we are aware of their support for the measures. Detailed discussions on enforcement will be arranged with them in the coming weeks. We are confident, however, that we can work together to ensure effective and efficient enforcement.

I have covered most of the specific concerns that Members raised. We know that countries around the world are considering ways in which to address further the harms of tobacco use and the growing use of vapes among young people. It is critical that Northern Ireland not be left behind on such significant public health initiatives. As Members will be aware, a key element of the reform of our health service is enabling people to stay well for longer. The Bill offers a huge opportunity to do just that.

In 2006, we introduced legislation banning smoking in indoor public places and workplaces. At the time, such legislation was not without its challenges, but it is now heralded as being one of the most important pieces of public health legislation of our time. The Bill offers us a similar opportunity to take bold action to protect our children and grandchildren from the misery that tobacco use brings and to protect them from new forms of nicotine addiction.

I thank my officials for their work on the LCM and also for their engagement during the lack of a functioning Assembly. I thank Members for their acknowledgement of that work. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the UK Tobacco and Vapes Bill extending to Northern Ireland insofar as the provisions of that Bill relate to matters falling within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.