Examination of witnesses

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:26 am on 30 April 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Michelle Mitchell, Deborah Arnott and Sheila Duffy gave evidence.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 9:34, 30 April 2024

We are now sitting in public again, and our proceedings are being broadcast. Before we hear from the witnesses, do any Members wish to declare their interests in connection with the Bill?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Independent, Enfield, Southgate

I do not know whether it is an actual declaration, but I did the Cancer Research 10k fun run in February—the winter run.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

That is more of a boast than a declaration of interest.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am an NHS consultant paediatrician, and a member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Conservative, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

I am a practising psychologist, and I also chair the all-party parliamentary health group.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

Sir George, do we have to declare our memberships of any groups? I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group for responsible vaping.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Well, whether it was required or not, you have now done it.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

We will now hear oral evidence from Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, and Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of ASH Scotland. To begin with, I will call on Michelle Mitchell.

Michelle Mitchell:

First, thank you for your openness and transparency, Sir George. It is also important to declare whether anybody giving evidence has associations with the tobacco industry; I have none. The principle of accountability and transparency is also important for the people who are giving evidence.

Smoking is the biggest cause of death, ill health and disability. It is the biggest cause of cancer in the UK. It has a huge impact on preventable deaths, the economy, productivity and of course families and loved ones. Cancer Research UK supports the legislation to create the first ever smoke-free generation and to stop young people developing addictions, risk, ill health and, of course, cancer. We believe that the rights and entitlements of current smokers are reasonably unaffected. We urge you through your considerations in Parliament to pass the legislation, as does the public, 73% of whom support the legislation.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Witnesses may wish initially to introduce themselves or to make a presentation. I am open minded about that. I call Deborah Arnott.

Deborah Arnott:

My name is Deborah Arnott. I am chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health. I have held that position since May 2003, so this is my 21st year. I have been around for a lot of tobacco legislation, and it is really impressive to see where successive Governments have brought us.

I do not know whether you want me to go on and make some key points. Would that be helpful?

Deborah Arnott:

One thing I would say is that people have said, “Well, why do we need this? Smoking rates are going down.” The evidence is clear: if you take the foot off the pedal, smoking rates do not continue to fall. We have seen that around the world and, in recent years, we have seen that in the UK too. Indeed, our 2024 survey of 11 to 17-year-olds found that smoking rates have pretty much flatlined since before covid. The UCL smoking toolkit study is finding the same thing with adults and in particular with young adults. The smoke-free generation policy is vital to make smoking obsolete. That is the Government’s ambition, and I think it is one that everyone here shares.

I can provide you with the full youth and adult survey data, but we are still working on the detailed analysis. I was asked whether I could also talk a bit about the surveys of retailers we have done. We have published some of the data and some of this data is in addition. For many years, tobacco industry-funded trade bodies have campaigned against successive legislation, against tax increases, against the display ban and against plain packaging. ASH wanted to find out what retailers themselves thought. We commissioned NEMS Market Research to survey representative samples of managers or owners of independent shops selling tobacco. It is particularly important to understand the experiences of our small shopkeepers, as they are the ones who will have the most difficulty implementing potential legislation.

The latest survey, which was conducted in January and early February and spoke to 900 retailers in England and Wales, showed that more than half—51%—support raising the age of sale every year, with only a quarter opposing. Some 79% support fixed penalty notices for breaches of age of sale regulations, which are in the legislation, while 13% were opposed to that. Some 71% support mandatory age verification, with only one in five opposing, which is really important. The legislation does include mandatory age verification for Scotland, but not for the remaining nations of the United Kingdom. That is important because it is about creating a level playing field. It means that anyone going in to purchase tobacco knows that they will be treated the same whatever shop they go in to, which makes it easier for retailers and customers.

I was here when the smoke-free laws were being debated. There was a lot of opposition from the tobacco industry, which said those laws would be unenforceable, and that we could not stop people smoking in public places. Raising the age of sale by one year every year is a very incremental measure. Banning smoking in public places, and particularly in pubs and clubs—those of you who are old enough will remember just how smoky those places were—was a much more dramatic change. Despite that, we actually saw 98% compliance in England in the eight months after the legislation was implemented. Why? Because the measure was popular, just as this legislation is, and because it was underpinned by a good communication strategy, with clear signage in premises and guidance to business. That is what we need for this legislation. If we have that, I do not think there will be difficulties in enforcing the legislation. That is clearly what retailers think, too.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. Finally, I call on Sheila Duffy. Unnecessary though it may seem, I ask each of our witnesses to state your name and title for the record—you could do it now, Sheila. The other two witnesses could do it later.

Sheila Duffy:

Thank you, Sir George. My name is Sheila Duffy. I am the chief executive of ASH Scotland, which is one of four ASH organisations within the UK. We very much welcome this proposed legislation. These are strong and necessary measures. Tobacco is the most addictive lethal substance openly on sale, and these measures will incrementally clear tobacco from the shelves. However, it is a long-term measure. You cannot do just one thing with tobacco; we know that. You have to have a strategic, comprehensive programme of measures.

Circumstances in Scotland are different in some respects: our cessation services are in the health boards; we have a register for tobacco and vaping products; and we have fines for under-age sales. We in Scotland are particularly concerned about the huge rise in youth vaping, which has been driven particularly by the promotion and easy availability of cheap, brightly coloured, sweet-flavoured e-cigarettes. Moves are being made in Scotland—not, I hope, derailed by recent political changes—to end the sale of single-use disposable vapes, but we need to do more to create an environment that drives health for the next generation. Scotland committed to creating a generation free from tobacco in 2013, with an endgame target of 2034. I would urge you to introduce the strongest possible measures, close loopholes and resist the arguments and blandishments of multinational corporate industries whose interest is profit, not the health of your constituents.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. I now intend to take two questions each from the Opposition spokesperson and the Minister. Given that we have very restricted time, I impress upon the witnesses that they need to be very brief in their answers.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

You will have seen on Second Reading that there is almost universal agreement on the basic point that smoking is bad, and that we want to see smoking rates come down and to have a smoke-free future. A lot of Members of Parliament raised other issues, especially about raising the age of sale. Can you explain why you support a complete ban as the right way to deliver a smoke-free future?Q

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Are you going to have just one question, or do you want to put two?

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

Do you want me to ask the second question now as well?

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

My second question is on the point that Sheila raised. Clause 61 gives the Secretary of State powers to regulate on packaging, vaping or nicotine products. Clause 62 makes regulations for the Secretary of State to have powers on substances that may be included and the flavour of vaping. Do you believe that the measures in the Bill to prevent vapes appealing to children are likely to work, and where can we learn lessons to ensure their effectiveness?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Could you talk us through ASH’s assessment of the economic cost to the UK economy of smoking? Secondly, what is your view on the importance of restricting vaping for children?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Can we start with Sheila Duffy, please?

Sheila Duffy:

In terms of a complete ban, you are talking about a ban on retail distribution of tobacco. The hope is that we will put it out of sight and out of fashion for the generation growing up. My preference is always to look at the product and the industry, rather than the consumer, so we need to maintain other issues like good fiscal policy, high price and tax.

On packaging and flavours, we know that the tobacco industry sold the sizzle on tobacco—it sold the image, it sold how it made people feel and it sold the very short-term-felt attractions and benefits. In the 1950s, people were recommended smoking to appear glamorous, to appear rugged and confident and to clear their chests in tuberculosis hospitals, and we did not know at that time how devastatingly harmful it was to health and how many years of life it would rob people of.

We must learn the lessons. It is the sizzle. It is the packaging, the marketing, the promotions that we must get on top of with vaping products, because that has driven the interest among young people, and the exponential —the doubling, tripling of regular use among children that were not smoking. There is a link between regular vaping and moving on to smoking, which I can send you the evidence for.

In terms of the economic cost, the World Bank looked at this years ago. Tobacco is not good value for any economy because the long-term costs are huge. What you are talking about is privatising the profit but socialising the costs, and that is a huge burden on the NHS and a huge burden on people’s lives. It undermines their health and the health of their families.

The final question was on the importance of restricting e-cigarettes for children. Well, let us learn the lessons from tobacco and let us take some strong steps to stop the next generation becoming addicted. I note that the devices mainly being used under-age and by children are of the highest permitted nicotine level. They are advertised with bright colours—cartoon characters in some places. They are absolutely all over social media and there is money going into influencing. These are being targeted. We are not talking about medicinal use. We are talking about recreational products, which are addictive and health-harming. We have to get on top of this.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

In view of the pressure on time, I ask the two other witnesses, if they agree with what has already been said, to say so and then make any additional points that need to be made. Obviously, if you do not agree, that changes the nature of it.

Deborah Arnott:

I agree with the points being made. On the costs of smoking, the Minister has cited our figures to date—thank you for that. We have done a lot of work on this. New figures will be published next week, so we will give an update on those and on what additional costs we think there are, other than the ones that have been taken into account by the Government so far. That will be available for the Committee, too.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Q Would you state your latest research for the record, though? Obviously, this Committee is here to provide the evidence on the record.

Deborah Arnott:

I would rather not summarise it now, but it will come very quickly and we can provide it to the Committee in advance of publication, so the Committee will get the full details.

Deborah Arnott:

I would like to go on to talk about Preet’s question about clauses 61 and 62, and I would also like to talk about clause 63, because they are the ones that are absolutely crucial to prevent vapes from appealing to children.

I do not know whether I am allowed to do this, but I will show the Committee these things. This is a completely reusable vape and this is a completely disposable vape. They look almost identical and they are the same price. The disposable vapes ban being implemented by DEFRA will get rid of disposable vapes—

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Can I interrupt you there? The rules do not allow the use of props.

Deborah Arnott:

Okay, sorry. I will share them with Committee members afterwards.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

We will overlook the fact that you have already used them.

Deborah Arnott:

Sorry—I apologise. But they are just as attractive and just as cheap. Children do not vape because they are disposable; they vape because they are cheap, attractive and available. That is what we have to address.

When it comes to flavours, clause 62 is quite a difficult clause to implement. That is why the clause says that the Secretary of State will have to specify in regulations

“how the flavour of a product is to be determined.”

This is not as easy as it sounds. The federal Government in Canada—Canada has probably the best-funded enforcement authority, in Health Canada, which has a whole directorate on tobacco and vapes—banned confectionary and dessert flavours in 2018. However, their regulations do not ban the flavours themselves; they just ban the descriptors, because that is the easy bit. They are still working on how to determine vape flavours and nearly six years on they have still not succeeded in doing so.

That has to be done with care, whereas clauses 61 and 63, which relate to product appearance, packaging and labelling, are much easier to implement and that work can be done much more quickly. Under these clauses, we could get rid of the bright colouring, cartoon-like imagery and promotional names such as those Caroline has mentioned—Unicorn Shake—or sweet names such as Gummy Bears or Banana Milkshake. Those are the things that we can get rid of easily. We need to work very carefully on the regulations to prohibit flavours to make sure that they are effective, but let us get rid of the descriptors now.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. Michelle Mitchell—again, could you just make additional points that have not already been made?

Michelle Mitchell:

I am Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. I agree with the points that have been made. I will particularly respond to the question about age and potentially the postponement above 18.

The first thing that I will say is that two thirds of people die as a result of smoking. We cannot be complacent about smoking rates among younger people. Of course good progress has been made, but we cannot be complacent. We do not want to postpone people starting smoking; we want to prevent them from starting smoking. We have seen how addictive smoking is and we have seen the impact of previous increases in the age through legislation, with a 30% reduction in the number of people smoking previously between the ages of 16 and 18 when the legislation was introduced. I think that point stands strongly.

I have a prop, which I will not use, given the Chair’s views, but it would indicate, if I was allowed to use it, the tar that goes into somebody’s lungs just from smoking 10 cigarettes a day for one year. That creates damage for families, affects the productivity of the economy, impacts the NHS in a costly way and destroys lives. Strong legislation, applied with the recommendations around the legislation, is supported.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. I will take two more questions from Members, one after the other.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

Public health messaging is most effective when it is simple. Should the restrictions on vaping being advertised on football shirts, for instance, be in line with those on tobacco advertising, and should there be similar restrictions on where people can vape as there are for smokingQ ?

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I want to ask about the passive effect of vaping. We know that if you are proximal to someone vaping you can smell the blueberry flavour, or whatever it is. Do you have any evidence on the passive health effects of vapes?

Michelle Mitchell:

I think Deborah is going to pick up on vaping.

Deborah Arnott:

Actually, I think that question is best put to Professor Ann McNeill, who you are seeing this afternoon. It is a really technical question and needs to be answered by a scientist. In principle, though, as Michelle has pointed out, what cigarette smoke has in it—tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide—is much more harmful than any passive effect from vaping. It may be unpleasant, with the flavours, but that is something else.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Is that the settled view of all three of you?

Sheila Duffy:

I just want to add to it, please. Scotland already has legislation on the books, which was fully debated and passed in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. There are three final sets of regulations to be enabled, which would allow closing down displays of vaping products in shops, on billboards and on bus shelters; ending sponsorship, which speaks to the issue of local sports clubs and so on; and stopping free samples. Scotland has the powers in law to introduce those regulations. I would hope that the Scottish Parliament and Government would move ahead with that, because it is complementary to the measures being discussed here.

In terms of aerosol and heated tobacco product aerosol, there is conclusive evidence of aerosol particulate matter, which is similar to that which has been extensively researched for air pollution, so we could expect to see similar effects. There is specific research going on, I believe in Italy, on vapour and ultrafine particles, which move differently from larger particles. We can send you further information and background on that.

I will add that, much as I respect Ann McNeill, her background is in psychology, and you probably need to be looking at air quality research. There has been some work done on that, for which I will send you references.

Michelle Mitchell:

We are also happy to provide a literature and evidence review of the leading science on this issue from around the world.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. I will take two more questions, from Kirsten Oswald and Bob Blackman.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

To expand on a point made earlier, I wonder what more is necessary in terms of promotion and advertising action. I am very concerned about the matter of football strips and, indeed, sports stadiums being sponsored by vaping companies. The messages that that sends to the young people who are taking up vaping in such numbers is hugely problematic. It strikes me that within your areas of expertise there are probably other areas where we could extend what we are seeking to do here, in order that we do the best job possible of trying to close these loopholesQ .

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

All three witnesses have given support for the Bill. You have already suggested one change that could be made in terms of age verification, similar to the system in Scotland. Are there any other changes that you think should be implemented that could make the Bill stronger? One of the concerns that many of us have is that we get only a limited number of chances to deal with this challenge in primary legislation, so we need to get in as much as we can to make sure that we achieve the smoke-free England that we all want to see.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

We have five minutes left and I do not think there will be time for any further questions. I may have missed it, but I am not sure whether anybody responded to Rachel Maskell’s points. In responding, could you cover those as well?

Deborah Arnott:

Can I just confirm, Rachael, that your question was about public health messaging, restrictions and smoke-free laws?

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

Including where people can vape, yes.

Deborah Arnott:

To go to that one first, I think it is really important—the chief medical officer has said this too—to make the distinction between smoking and vaping. Smoke-free laws were implemented after very strong evidence about second-hand smoke causing lung cancer and heart disease. We do not have that for vaping. It is important that regulations are in place, and we are seeing that—you cannot vape on public transport or aeroplanes or in most workplaces, and that is fine—but making it legislative implies that it is equivalent to smoking.

On the point about displays and promotion, our surveys show that children are most aware of the promotion of vapes in store and online, and that is where the priority has to be in strengthening the legislation. Restrictions on how products are displayed, and the packaging and labelling stuff that we have already talked about, are really important.

In terms of additional measures, on the vaping side, there is one thing that I would say is vital. At the moment, clause 63 does not allow for a change in the product requirements set out in the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations, following on from the EU tobacco products directive, which was designed in 2013, over 10 years ago. We need the Government to have powers to change the general product requirements, not just ones related to branding, and that is the other amendment on vaping that I think is really important. There are other things, but I have possibly run out of time, so we can share those with the Committee separately.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

That would be helpful, thank you. We are up against the clock, but is there anything additional that either of the other two witnesses want to say very briefly?

Sheila Duffy:

Thank you for your time. ASH Scotland supports an increasing European movement towards SAFE—smoke and aerosol-free environments—for the sake of health. I would say, on the evidence base on tobacco, that we have 100 years of scientific evidence, and it took 30 to 60 years to see the heaviest health impacts from tobacco. We should be more cautious about e-cigarettes as recreational products. The World Health Organisation, in its call to action in December last year, suggested that they should be carefully handled as cessation products, not as a whole-population approach. We would support ambient advertising and sponsorship being closed down. In terms of what further the UK Parliament could do, use the powers you have to regulate things like social media and be very aware of the massive commercial influences on thinking, which far outweigh any resource that small third-sector advocacy organisations can bring.

Michelle Mitchell:

We need to keep our eye on the big prize. We have talked about the evidence and statistics relating to smoking. This would be a world-leading piece of legislation, and we urge you in Parliament to pass it in full with the scope recommended by the Government. I think you would be leaving an incredible legacy of health, wealth and a healthy country for future generations.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you very much. Apologies that it was all a bit rushed, but the nature of these things is that we have to use the time as effectively as possible. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for their helpful evidence and guidance. We very much appreciate it.