New Clause 29 - Health warnings on cigarettes and cigarette papers

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 28th October 2021.

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“The Secretary of State may by regulations require tobacco manufacturers to print health warnings on individual cigarettes and cigarette rolling papers.”

This new clause would give powers to the Secretary of State to require manufacturers to print health warnings on individual cigarettes.—(Mary Kelly Foy.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

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

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 30—Cigarette pack inserts—

“The Secretary of State may by regulations require tobacco manufacturers to display a health information message on a leaflet inserted in cigarette packaging.”

This new clause would give powers to the Secretary of State to require manufacturers to insert leaflets containing health information and information about smoking cessation services inside cigarette packaging.

New clause 31—Packaging and labelling of nicotine products—

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the retail packaging and labelling of electronic cigarettes and other novel nicotine products including requirements for health warnings and prohibition of branding elements attractive to children.”

This new clause would give powers to the Secretary of State to prohibit branding on e-cigarette packaging which is appealing to children.

New clause 32—Sale and distribution of nicotine products to children under the age of 18 years—

“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations prohibit the free distribution of nicotine products to those aged under 18 years, and prohibit the sale of all nicotine products to those under 18.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must include an exception for medicines or medical devices indicated for the treatment of persons aged under 18.”

This new clause would give powers to the Secretary of State to prohibit the free distribution or sale of any consumer nicotine product to anyone under 18, while allowing the sale or distribution of nicotine replacement therapy licensed for use by under 18s.

New clause 33—Flavoured tobacco products—

“The Secretary of State may by regulations remove the limitation of the prohibition of flavours in cigarettes or tobacco products to “characterising” flavours, and extend the flavour prohibition to all tobacco products as well as smoking accessories including filter papers, filters and other products designed to flavour tobacco products.”

This new clause would give powers to the Secretary of State to prohibit any flavouring in any tobacco product or smoking accessory.

New clause 34—Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes—

“(1) The Secretary of State may make a scheme (referred to in this section and section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes (supplementary)] as a statutory scheme) for one or more of the following purposes—

(a) regulating the prices which may be charged by any manufacturer or importer of tobacco products for the supply of any tobacco products,

(b) limiting the profits which may accrue to any manufacturer or importer in connection with the manufacture or supply of tobacco products, or

(c) providing for any manufacturer or importer of tobacco products to pay to the Secretary of State an amount calculated by reference to sales or estimated sales of those products (whether on the basis of net prices, average selling prices or otherwise).

(2) A statutory scheme may, in particular, make any provision mentioned in subsections (3) to (6).

(3) The scheme may provide for any amount representing sums charged by any manufacturer or importer to whom the scheme applies, in excess of the limits determined under the scheme, for tobacco products covered by the scheme to be paid by that person to the Secretary of State within a specified period.

(4) The scheme may provide for any amount representing the profits, in excess of the limits determined under the scheme, accruing to any manufacturer or importer to whom the scheme applies in connection with the manufacture or importation of tobacco products covered by the scheme to be paid by that person to the Secretary of State within a specified period.

(5) The scheme may provide for any amount payable in accordance with the scheme by any manufacturer or importer to whom the scheme applies to be paid to the Secretary of State within a specified period.

(6) The scheme may—

(a) prohibit any manufacturer or importer to whom the scheme applies from varying, without the approval of the Secretary of State, any price charged by him for the supply of any tobacco product covered by the scheme, and

(b) provide for any amount representing any variation in contravention of that prohibition in the sums charged by that person for that product to be paid to the Secretary of State within a specified period.”

This new clause and NC35, NC36 and NC37 would enable the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to regulate prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers.

New clause 35—Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes (supplementary)—

“(1) The Secretary of State may make any provision the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of enabling or facilitating—

(a) the introduction of a statutory scheme under section [Tobacco supplies: Statutory schemes], or

(b) the determination of the provision to be made in a proposed statutory scheme.

(2) The provision may, in particular, require any person to whom such a scheme may apply to—

(a) record and keep information,

(b) provide information to the Secretary of State in electronic form.

(3) The Secretary of State must—

(a) store electronically the information which is submitted in accordance with subsection (2);

(b) ensure that information submitted in accordance with this provision is made publicly available on a website, taking the need to protect trade secrets duly into account.

(4) Where the Secretary of State is preparing to make or vary a statutory scheme, the Secretary of State may make any provision the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient for transitional or transitory purposes which could be made by such a scheme.”

This new clause and NC34, NC36 and NC37 would enable the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to regulate prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers.

New clause 36—Tobacco supplies: enforcement—

“(1) Regulations may provide for a person who contravenes any provision of regulations or directions under section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes] to be liable to pay a penalty to the Secretary of State.

(2) The penalty may be—

(a) a single penalty not exceeding £5 million,

(b) a daily penalty not exceeding £500,000 for every day on which the contravention occurs or continues.

(3) Regulations may provide for any amount required to be paid to the Secretary of State by virtue of section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes] (4) or (6)(b) to be increased by an amount not exceeding 50 per cent.

(4) Regulations may provide for any amount payable to the Secretary of State by virtue of provision made under section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes] (3), (4), (5) or (6)(b) (including such an amount as increased under subsection (3)) to carry interest at a rate specified or referred to in the regulations.

(5) Provision may be made by regulations for conferring on manufacturers and importers a right of appeal against enforcement decisions taken in respect of them in pursuance of [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes], [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes (supplementary)] and this section.

(6) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (5) includes any provision which may be made by model provisions with respect to appeals under section 6 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 (c. 40), reading—

(a) the references in subsections (4) and (5) of that section to enforcement action as references to action taken to implement an enforcement decision,

(b) in subsection (5) of that section, the references to interested persons as references to any persons and the reference to any decision to take enforcement action as a reference to any enforcement decision.

(7) In subsections (5) and (6), ‘enforcement decision’ means a decision of the Secretary of State or any other person to—

(a) require a specific manufacturer or importer to provide information to him,

(b) limit, in respect of any specific manufacturer or importer, any price or profit,

(c) refuse to give approval to a price increase made by a specific manufacturer or importer,

(d) require a specific manufacturer or importer to pay any amount (including an amount by way of penalty) to the Secretary of State,

and in this subsection ‘specific’ means specified in the decision.

(8) A requirement or prohibition, or a limit, under section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes], may only be enforced under this section and may not be relied on in any proceedings other than proceedings under this section.

(9) Subsection (8) does not apply to any action by the Secretary of State to recover as a debt any amount required to be paid to the Secretary of State under section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes] or this section.

(10) The Secretary of State may by order increase (or further increase) either of the sums mentioned in subsection (2).”

This new clause and NC34, NC35 and NC37 would enable the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to regulate prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers.

New clause 37—Tobacco supplies: controls: (supplementary)—

“(1) Any power conferred on the Secretary of State by section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes] and [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes (supplementary)] may be exercised by—

(a) making regulations, or

(b) giving directions to a specific manufacturer or importer.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1)(a) may confer power for the Secretary of State to give directions to a specific manufacturer or importer; and in this subsection ‘specific’ means specified in the direction concerned.

(3) In this section and section [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes] and [Tobacco supplies: statutory schemes (supplementary)] and [Tobacco supplies: enforcement]—

‘tobacco product’ means a product that can be consumed and consists, even partly, of tobacco;

‘manufacturer’ means any person who manufactures tobacco products;

‘importer’ means any person who imports tobacco products into the UK with a view to the product being supplied for consumption in the United Kingdom or through the travel retail sector, and contravention of a provision includes a failure to comply with it.”

This new clause and NC34, NC35 and NC36 would enable the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to regulate prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers.

New clause 38—Age of sale of tobacco—

“The Secretary of State may by regulations substitute the age of 21 for the age of 18 for the sale of tobacco and make consequential amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 and the Children and Families Act 2014.”

This new clause would give powers to the Secretary of State to raise the age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

The Government’s prevention Green Paper, published in July 2019, included an ambition to make England smoke free by 2030. Admitting that bold action would be needed, the Government promised further proposals in order to finish the job. Two years on, and with less than nine years to go before 2030, we are nowhere near on track to achieve that ambition. Using Government data, projections by Cancer Research UK show that we will miss the target by seven years, and by double that for the poorest in society. Despite the promise of further action on tobacco, there are no measures to tackle smoking in the Bill. That is a major oversight, which my new clauses seek to address.

The new clauses are based on the recommendations included in the latest report from the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, of which I am the vice-chair. They set out a range of complementary measures to deliver the smoke free ambition, which will also significantly increase productivity and reduce pressure on the health and care system. Although the smoke-free 2030 ambition applies specifically to England, all parts of the UK have stated an ambition to end smoking, so I am pleased that members of the Committee from Wales and Scotland support the new clauses.

I will briefly run through the new clauses and why they are necessary additions to the Bill. New clause 29 would give the Secretary of State the power to require tobacco manufacturers to print health warnings on individual cigarettes and cigarette rolling papers. New clause 30 would allow the Secretary of State to require tobacco manufacturers to display a health information message on a leaflet inserted into cigarette packaging, which the Government promised to consider in the prevention Green Paper two years ago. Those are simple, uncontroversial and effective measures that would help deliver the Government’s smoke-free 2030 ambition at minimal cost.

New clauses 31 to 33 would allow the Secretary of State to close loopholes and regulations that allow tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers to market their products to children and to undermine regulations that are designed to protect public health. New clause 31 would give powers to the Secretary of State to prohibit branding on e-cigarette packaging that appeals to children, such as branding that uses sweet names, cartoon characters and garish colours.

New clause 32 would give the Secretary of State powers to block a shocking loophole in the law that means that, although e-cigarettes cannot be sold to children under 18, they can be given out for free. There is no reason why we cannot seek to rectify that anomaly today. New clause 33 would give the Secretary of State powers to ban all flavouring and not just that defined as characterising. That term is subjective and ill-defined and has allowed tobacco manufacturers to drive a coach and horses through the legislation.

The Government were required by law to review the relevant tobacco regulations to check whether they are fit for purpose, and to publish a report in May 2021, which they have not done. It is time for them to address these egregious loopholes in the regulations, and the Bill is an ideal opportunity to do so. These new clauses are uncontroversial, and would be of clear benefit to child public health. I will therefore seek to divide the Committee on new clauses 31, 32 and possibly 33.

Following on from those new clauses, we must accept that if England is to be smoke free by 2030 we need to stop people starting smoking at the most susceptible age, when they are adolescents and young adults. There is a real and present danger that must be addressed: new figures from a large survey by University College London found a 25% surge in the number of young adults aged 18 to 34 in England who smoked during the first lockdown. New clause 38 would give the Secretary of State powers to raise the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21. That regulatory measure would have the largest impact in reducing the prevalence of smoking among young adults, as demonstrated by what happened in the United States when the age of sale was increased to 21.

Finally, I want to address the issue of funding. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that the need for more investment in public health is greater than ever before. The Government promised to consider a US-style “polluter pays” levy on tobacco manufacturers in the 2019 prevention Green Paper. New clauses 34 to 37 would enable the Secretary of State to regulate prices and the profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers, which could provide funding not only for England, but for the devolved Administrations, with any excess allocated to other vital public health interventions.

I want to express my gratitude to my hon. Friends for supporting these new clauses. I hope the Government will engage with these proposals in a similarly constructive manner with regard to the forthcoming tobacco control plan, ensuring that public health is at the heart of any discussions around smoking and tobacco.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Obviously, smoking has increased during covid, particularly during the lockdowns, which is quite depressing after some of the progress made in recent decades. This array of new clauses tries to tackle the issue from different angles. New clauses 32 and 38 relate to the age at which someone can purchase, along with other point-of-sale policies. Those issues are all under devolved control, so I have not got involved in those. However, the policy decisions around manufacturing, flavourings, packaging and so on are all reserved, and all four nations of the UK would agree that the biggest single favour anyone can do for their own health is to give up smoking.

As older people and people who have smoked for many years sadly succumb to the diseases we know are caused by smoking, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, it is incumbent on tobacco companies to recruit a new generation. That is what ornate packaging and childish flavourings are clearly aimed at doing, and they are therefore completely counter to the policies of the UK Government and the devolved Governments.

This is an opportunity to stake the point, move forward and take action to prevent the recruitment of young smokers into cigarette smoking, which will inevitably cost the NHS—indeed the four NHSs—more, as they deal with the health issues over a number of decades, than is raised by tobacco duty. The Government need to stop looking at what they earn from cigarettes and focus on minimising their use. That is the Government’s stated policy, and these new clauses would take that forward.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

It is a pleasure to resume proceedings with you in the Chair, Mr Bone. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham for her new clauses and the powerful case she made for them, but also for her leadership in the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, alongside Bob Blackman. I know it is a truly impactful APPG and I have always been grateful for my opportunities to go to its sessions to contribute or to listen, as I know Ministers have as well. Reducing smoking and being smoke free by 2030 is a major public health prize. It was a bit disappointing and surprising that there were no tobacco control elements on the face of the Bill, so it is right that we spend a little time trying to change that.

Successive Governments have rightly taken real pride in the reductions in smoking over the past 20 to 25 years. Those reductions have not happened by accident, but through concrete interventions that were sometimes controversial and often challenging at the time, such as the smoking ban, plain packaging and packet warnings—things that we soon afterwards realised were very impactful, and very much the right thing to do. Of course, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire says, we have to view this in the context of covid, and there has perhaps been a bit of backsliding on that progress, but that should drive us not to despair, but to redouble our efforts. I hope we can move things forward in the spirit that my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham suggested.

We have to understand that the gains we have made in recent years come with a caveat. Most of the quitting has been done by people from better-off communities, and the benefits have largely accrued to those communities. We are now at the point where smoking accounts for 50% of health inequalities between the poorest and the best-off communities. If we really are serious about levelling up or whatever we want to call it, health is surely a crucial part of that. We know that smoking accounts for half of that difference, so we really ought to be focusing on it.

Reducing smoking ought to be a major project for any Government, because poorer smokers are just as likely to want to quit as their better-off counterparts, and just as able to do so if they have access to good services. However, we have spent a decade cutting those services in general, but particularly in the poorest communities, so high-quality smoking cessation services—which are so effective—have withered on the vine in many of the places that need them the most.

I will now turn to the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, beginning with new clause 29. About one in seven adults smokes. That is about 7 million people, and while health warnings have been displayed on smoking packages for well over a decade, there is evidence that the impact of warnings such as those wane over time. However, the dangers of smoking remain high—between 2016 and 2018, there were 1,167 deaths attributable to smoking in my city of Nottingham alone—so we need to build on the techniques that have worked, with new ones to refresh our under-standing of the dangers of cigarettes to smokers.

There is evidence that dissuasive cigarettes can make smoking less attractive to younger people and non-smokers, and the inclusion of warnings on individual cigarettes, as proposed by new clause 29, is one key way of doing that. Such warnings are already being considered around the world: an in-depth study from France found that warnings on cigarettes increased negative health perceptions, reduced positive smoker image and the perceived pleasure of smoking, decreased the desire to start smoking, and increased the desire to quit. There are therefore signs that such a policy would be impactful.

New clause 30 deals with cigarette pack inserts. Inserting leaflets that contain health information and information about quitting is an effective and cheap way to target existing smokers and help them get support to quit. Those inserts are easy and cheap to implement and, moreover, while the reading of cigarette pack warnings decreases over time, the reading of inserts increases. In Canada, package inserts have been a legal requirement since 2000, and a survey of smokers in Canada found that between one quarter and one third of respondents had read pack inserts at least once in the prior month, and those intending to quit or having recently tried to do so were significantly more likely to have read them. Pack inserts will support and reinforce the impact of other measures that will require more significant investment campaigns to go with them, such as behaviour change campaigns and stop smoking services. They are a really good evidence-based, low-cost addition to such campaigns.

New clause 31 relates to the packaging and labelling of nicotine products. Over the decades, regulation has transformed traditional cigarette packaging, plastering it with warnings and preventing tobacco companies from selling a desirable image of smoking. However, regulations have not kept pace with the less traditional nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches. Tobacco companies are still able to sell e-cigarettes adorned with bright colours, cartoon characters and attractive images, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, and I know that e-cigarette shops in my constituency offer vape liquids branded as vanilla ice cream, slushies and cookie dough, all of which appear targeted at young people, and children in particular.

I am enthusiastic about vaping—it still feels like that is an unfashionable thing to say, but I stand by it. I think vaping is a really good way to help people quit smoking and stay quit, and it is a really important part of a smoke-free 2030. However, it should be regulated properly to help make being smoke free a reality. Data shows that restrictions on the branding of e-cigarettes and refills reduce the appeal of vaping to young people, particularly children, while having little impact on adult smokers’ interest in using these products to quit smoking, so, again, it is cost-free.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe) 11:45 am, 28th October 2021

I assume from the hon. Gentleman’s comments that he shares my concern that although vaping is considerably safer than traditional tobacco, as Public Health England reports on vaping show, vaping products still contain nicotine, which is a vascularly active substance. Therefore, we should still be concerned about non-smoking children being recruited on to vaping. We have no idea what decades of nicotine vaping will do to someone.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I do share that view, particularly around children. Our preference would be for them to never start. There should not be packages with cartoons and child-friendly descriptors to develop a market among children. I think there would be a high level of consensus on that.

In that spirit, new clause 32 addresses an incredible loophole, which I cannot believe anybody thinks is a good idea. If the Minister is not going to accept new clause 32, I hope he will say when the issue will be resolved. The idea that you cannot sell e-cigarettes to children but that you can give them out as free samples to under-18s is quite hard to understand. It is time for us to get hold of this simple loophole, which goes against the spirit of the legislation, which is designed to protect children against nicotine addiction. I hope we can get some clarity, either because the Minister accepts the new clause or gives us a clear picture that we will see action very soon.

On new clause 33, about flavoured tobacco products, it again feels like the market is not acting in the spirit of the laws that have been passed. Flavoured tobacco is designed to make products more appealing, especially to younger people. In May 2020, we banned the sale of tobacco with a characterising flavour such as vanilla, spices and menthol. However, companies have adapted to this legal change with new innovations that skirt the law and provide smoking experiences that replicate flavoured tobacco. I can go to supermarket websites and find “green” branded cigarettes being sold, with many reviews stating how similar the flavour is to menthol cigarettes. I do not think that is in the spirit of the law.

In the year from May 2020, Japan Tobacco made over £91 million in profits from menthol brands. Clearly, the law has not worked as we want it to. Moreover, between January 2020 and 2021, a survey of smokers showed that the smoking of menthol cigarettes has not declined, despite the apparent ban, so I do not think the law is working. This new clause would do a good job of closing that legal loophole. If the Minister is not minded to accept it, I would be keen to know what the Government intend to do instead, because I cannot believe that they want laws that they passed, in possession of full facts, to be worked around in that way.

I will take new clauses 34 to 37 as a group, because they create the same thing: a tobacco control fund, paid for by manufacturers, combined with the regulation of tobacco companies’ profits. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, when the Government announced their smoke-free 2030 ambition, they promised to consider a US-style “polluter pays” levy on the manufacturers, and included an ultimatum for industry to make smoked tobacco obsolete by 2030. My hon. Friend’s APPG has published a very strong option for how to do that. Ministers could lift and shift that very happily and get on with this. There are real benefits to that.

Action on Smoking and Health do some wonderful work, and I am grateful for its support in my work. It estimates that a comprehensive national, regional and local tobacco control programme—in many ways, we have lost that in recent years—to deliver a smoke-free 2030 would cost the UK about £315 million. That would involve adding back lost services. ASH’s estimate for a levy, based on the model the APPG talks about, is £700 million. This could be a “polluter pays” model, and we would have plenty left over to overturn all those poor public health budget cut decisions taken over the last decade. If the spirit of yesterday’s Budget was to try to rewind and erase the lost decade that we have had in this country, this would be a really good place to do that, and I think that is a good deal.

Of course, the EU tobacco tax directive is no longer a blocking factor, so we have complete agency to act in this area and it is in the gift of the Government, so I am very interested to know how far along the Minister or his colleagues are in the consideration, as they said, of this matter, and when we will see some proposals. Similarly, when will we see another tobacco control plan? That is something that everybody, from local government, public services, the private sector, community and voluntary services and all of us in this place, can organise around. The 2030 goal is a common goal. Pretty much everything that we have said in the new clauses are things that we are of one mind on. We can do something really good for the health of the nation, and I hope to find the Minister in action mode on that.

I will finish by referencing new clause 38, also tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, because I do not want it to look like I have ducked the question. It is important that we actively look at that and consider the evidence. I am perhaps not ready to say that it should be in the Bill, but it should be part of an active conversation in this area and part of a tobacco control plan. I think the Minister may be in a similar place on that, because we know that it is an effective part of the armoury. There are loads of really great things to go at in this set of new clauses, and I hope that he feels the same way.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I am grateful to the hon. Member for City of Durham for giving us an opportunity to debate the new clauses. I had the privilege and pleasure, I think almost a year and a half or two years ago, when I was standing in for the Public Health Minister, of responding to a debate in the House on this subject—I think she was in Westminster Hall responding to another debate. I therefore had the pleasure of listening to hon. Members speaking about the work of the APPG, and this issue more broadly, on that occasion. It seems like an age ago. I suspect that it was only about a year ago, but that is what the last year and a half has done for many of us.

New clause 29 seeks to provide powers for the Secretary of State to impose a requirement for tobacco manufacturers to print health warnings on individual cigarettes and cigarette rolling papers. That requirement is intended to further strengthen the current public health messaging and encourage smokers to quit. The Government are sympathetic to the aims of the new clause. We strongly support measures to stop people smoking and to educate smokers of its dangers, as we have done through warnings on cigarette packs. However, we believe that we need to conduct some further research and build a more robust evidence base in support of such additional measures before introducing them. If evidence shows that that requirement would not be effective, there is a risk that the power would not be used. As hon. Members will be aware—the hon. Lady was right in the point that she made—health is a devolved matter. Therefore such a measure would need to be considered in partnership with the devolved Administrations.

We are currently in the process of developing our new tobacco control plan. When the hon. Lady winds up the debate on this group of new clauses, she may say, “All well and good, but we’ve been in that place for a while. When will I see it?” I would be surprised were she not to do so. We continue to work on the plan at pace. She will be aware that the events of the last year and a half have, in a number of areas, knocked the existing timelines for producing plans slightly sideways, but we continue to work actively on that. As part of the tobacco control plan that we are working on, we are exploring a broad range of new regulatory measures to support our ambition to be smoke free by 2030. We are reviewing this specific proposal as part of that work, in considering the options for a package of legislative measures.

New clause 30 seeks to provide a power for the Secretary of State to introduce a requirement for manufacturers to insert leaflets containing health information and information about smoking cessation services inside cigarette packaging. We believe that that power is not strictly necessary as the Department could legislate to do that already under the Children and Families Act 2014, as inserts could be required for public health messaging through amendments to the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015. It is also important to note that we already have strong graphic images and warnings of the health harms of smoking on the outside of cigarette packs, and the NHS website provides advice for people seeking to quit smoking. That website address is required on packaging under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

The current regulations, the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015, prohibit the use of inserts, as there was limited evidence during the development of those regulations that placing public health messaging inserts inside cigarette packets was more effective than the messaging on the outside of packs. A post-implementation review of SPOT—if I may refer to the regulations in that way to save a little time—is currently under way. It is seeking to assess whether the regulations have met their objectives, and will identify whether there is a need to strengthen them in any way or to revisit any aspect of them, such as the one that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire mentions. We aim to publish the post-implementation review before the end of this year.

If we were to introduce inserts through regulations, we would need to conduct further research on that. We would need to establish the public health benefit, costs to businesses, impact on the environment from litter and practicalities around enforcement, and crucially build a robust evidence base in support of such measures and their efficacy, along with, obviously, public consultation on them. This is something that we will consider as part of the Smokefree 2030 regulatory plans, but we will wait and see what, in the next couple of months, the published post-implementation review says. Health, as I have mentioned, is devolved, so it is something on which we would need to work with our friends and partners in the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations.

New clause 31 seeks to enable legislation that would make provision about the retail packaging and labelling of electronic cigarettes and other novel nicotine products. That would include requirements for health warnings and the prohibition of branding elements that are attractive to children. I pay tribute to the work that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North, has done in this space. I know that this is not just an issue of shadow ministerial concern for him, but something in which he has taken an interest as an individual Member of Parliament, so I recognise his expertise and knowledge in this area.

We are currently undertaking a post-implementation review of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 as well. The current regulations include requirements on the packaging and labelling of e-cigarettes, along with restrictions on marketing, and they prohibit advertising on mainstream media such as TV and radio for e-cigarettes. Again, we will publish that review this year.

We want to encourage smokers to quit smoking using nicotine replacement therapy and by switching to less harmful products such as e-cigarettes. I take the point made by the hon. Members for Nottingham North and for Central Ayrshire. I share the shadow Minister’s view that if there is a choice between a conventional cigarette and an e-cigarette, I would much prefer people to be smoking an e-cigarette, because it is less harmful. But I absolutely take the point made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, who is, as we know, an eminent clinician, that even if it is less harmful, it is still harmful. The ideal would be that people use neither product, but if it is a choice between the two and a question of getting someone to change their habit, I would much prefer to see them using an e-cigarette than a conventional cigarette. I think that there is consensus on that point across the two Front Benches and, indeed, the SNP Front Bench.

However, we need to ensure that our regulatory framework continues to protect young people and non-smokers from using e-cigarettes. That is the point about the degree of harm: although less, it is still there. Regular youth use of e-cigarettes does, on current evidence, remain very low, at about 2% of 11 to 15-year olds. That figure dates back to 2018, so it is slightly dated, but it gives us a useful data point. However, I do not believe that that should induce complacency in any of us. We need to continue looking at the matter very carefully.

Again, the Government are sympathetic to the aims of the new clause and strongly support measures to protect young people. Again, I point to the timing and the need for the post-implementation reviews and for further research and consideration in the light of those when they come forward in the next few months.

New clause 32 seeks to give powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations to prohibit the free distribution or sale of any nicotine products to anyone under 18, with the exception of the sale or distribution of nicotine replacement therapy licensed for use by under-18s. There is already in place, as the shadow Minister alluded to, legislation that prohibits the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to under-18s; that includes proxy sales. There are also existing powers in the Children and Families Act 2014 to extend the age-of-sale restrictions to include any nicotine products such as nicotine pouches. Therefore, as he said, the new clause is not needed in relation to sales.

New clause 32 seeks to further protect young people from the distribution of free nicotine products to under-18s, but again, we do not have a firm or robust evidence base at present to suggest that that is a widespread problem. The recent post-implementation review of the Nicotine Inhaling Products (Age of Sale and Proxy Purchasing) Regulations 2015, published earlier this year, did not raise that as a concern. I suspect the hon. Member for Nottingham North will say, “Why not get ahead of the game, anyway, with a pragmatic measure?”, and I have some sympathy with that point.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe) 12:00 pm, 28th October 2021

With regard to the free provision of e-cigarettes or nicotine substitutes, the provision that could be amended quite simply by referring to where they are being provided through smoking cessation services, as opposed to where someone is buying them and then dishing them out, or is trying to use them to recruit young smokers. Accessing them commercially is quite different from being given them as part of a public health smoking cessation project.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

That is the point I was seeking to make. Smoking cessation services would still continue as normal. The argument from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North—this is where I might diverge from him, not necessarily in intent but in the timing—is that even if we cannot see this as a problem at the moment, we should act now on the basis of principle. His argument is: “Even if it is not happening, why would we let it happen? We should just close the loophole”—I paraphrase, but I think that is his argument. My counter-argument is that it would be appropriate to look at this, but to conduct further research to develop the evidence base further. Beyond that we have—from 2018, for example—more work to do on vaping first. That is essentially the point of difference.

The shadow Minister might say, “I accept that, but I still think we should do it now.” That is ultimately a difference in positions, not a point of principle about needing to look at this. It is about whether to act now or to do further research. That is the only difference, and the research is needed to evaluate the detailed benefits of the new clause. Also, there is the scale of the issue that we might be tackling. I know that the hon. Gentleman is fond of an impact assessment of the costs as well as the benefits. He rightly, as does his colleague on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and you on occasions, Mr Bone—

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Order. When I sit in this Chair, I have no views on anything.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Except perhaps the proper conduct of proceedings.

Moving on swiftly, new clause 33 seeks to change the current flavour ban, which would of course be the context in which I was referring to proper conduct proceedings requiring proper documents to be published. The new clause seeks to change the current flavour ban, which is based on characterising flavours in cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco, to one based on flavours for all tobacco products, as well as accessories used to flavour tobacco products.

The Government are committed to protecting the population from the harms of tobacco. Tobacco for smoking that has a detectable flavour—for example, menthol—has been changed to be more appealing to young people and easier to inhale. That can often result in a lifetime of tobacco addiction. Through the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, we have already banned characterising flavours in cigarettes and hand-rolled tobaccos. That means flavours that are noticeable before or during smoking of the product.

Again, the Government are sympathetic to the aims of the new clause, which would prohibit flavours in all tobacco products and accessories, but it is not clear how a ban on flavours would be enforced in practice, as it would include a ban on flavours that do not give a noticeable flavour to the product. Furthermore, it is not clear how this may be a better option than the current regulations, although the hon. Member for City of Durham might wish to address that point in her winding-up speech. As ever, I will reflect carefully on what she says and then discuss it with my colleague, the Public Health Minister. We are currently in the process of developing our new tobacco control plan. We are exploring, as I have said, a broad range of additional regulatory measures to support our Smokefree 2030 ambition.

New clauses 34 to 37—which, with your permission, Mr Bone, I will take in one bundle—seek to provide the Secretary of State with a power to enable the introduction of a scheme on tobacco manufacturers, limiting profitability by regulating prices. Tobacco taxation matters are, it will not surprise hon. Members to hear, a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury. Although earlier this week I found myself answering an urgent question relating to matters pertinent to Her Majesty’s Treasury, I will not stray into its territory, beyond saying that reducing the affordability of tobacco is one of the most effective measures to trigger smoking cessation. Tax increases are particularly effective among a range of groups of smokers, and therefore this is a key tool in helping to address health disparities and health outcomes associated with smoking.

As part of the annual Budget process, the Treasury will continue the policy of using tax to raise revenues and encourage cessation through high prices on tobacco products. The tobacco industry is already required to make a contribution to public finances, through tobacco duty, VAT and corporation tax. While the Government are open to the idea of the tobacco industry providing additional funds beyond taxation, further consideration of the potential options for and impacts of a scheme, including a robust impact assessment, would be needed. We would also need to consider how such a scheme would be implemented and how it would impact the taxation requirements currently placed on the industry. Such a scheme would likely take a number of years to develop and deliver to ensure that it was effective and robust.

The Department will continue to work with Her Majesty’s Treasury to assess the most effective regulatory means of making the industry pay for the harm that its products cause to our population, to support the Government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition, including exploring a potential future levy. Our ongoing work has contributed to smoking rates falling to their lowest on record, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North said, but there is still much more work to be done to protect people from the harms of tobacco.

Finally, new clause 38 would introduce a power to introduce legislation that would increase the age of sale on tobacco from 18 to 21. We have successfully made many regulatory reforms over the past two decades, and the UK is a global leader in tobacco control. Measures include raising the age of sale from 16 to 18, a tobacco display ban, standardised packaging and a ban on smoking in cars with children, all strengthening the barrier between young people and tobacco products.

The Government remain committed to our ambition to be smoke free by 2030 and to continue to protect the population and future generations from the harms of tobacco. However, the Government would like to review the evidence base of increasing the age of sale to 21 in more detail—I am probably in the same place on that issue as the shadow Minister. We would like to further assess its full impact on public health, the costs of implementation and how it would be enforced by trading standards. We have not consulted publicly on raising the age of sale to 21 to assess public opinion and consider whether it is the right regulatory measure to take forward to protect future generations. I know it is an issue that the APPG and the Royal College of Physicians have recommended we should consider.

We are currently in the process of developing our new tobacco control plan. We will review all the proposals in that context, as well as the well-researched reports that the APPG has put forward. I suspect the hon. Member for City of Durham will still want to push us on a few of these points—if not disagreeing with the sentiment, then possibly with the speed or the timescale. I will listen very carefully to what she says. I encourage her not to press the new clauses, but I suspect I may be out of luck.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

I welcome the Government’s commitment to publishing the plan and the consideration of some of the recommendations. I hope we will see that very soon. I will not press the majority of the new clauses, but new clauses 31 and 32 are aimed at children and child public health. I do not think we can wait.

We already have examples of vaping companies handing out free vaping products to 16 and 17-year-olds. There is an example of a 17-year-old woman on a market stall. A third party company came along and offered her vaping products in return for her email address, which was suspicious enough anyway. They do not tell the young person that the products have nicotine in them. There are already such examples.

I went online this morning to see whether I could purchase vaping products. The first one that came up was called the Breakfast Club, which tastes like marshmallow-flavoured breakfast charms. It is a shot of nicotine that goes into the refill of a vaping product. The refill is 15 ml, with a space left at the top for the shot. The Breakfast Club “charms”, which come in pink and yellow, are aimed at young people. When I went to buy some, I was asked if I was over 18; I would just have to click “Yes” for it to be delivered to my door tomorrow.

There is evidence that the longer we wait, the more young people will be hooked on nicotine through vaping products. I do not think we need further evidence. How many more young people will be addicted by the time the plan is introduced? I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion, but I will divide the Committee on new clauses 31 and 32.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.