Clause 10 - Power to extend vaping provisions to nicotine products

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 9 May 2024.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 43 stand part.

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

Welcome back, everyone.

Clause 10 provides regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in England, and Welsh Ministers, to extend the offences relating to the sale, purchase and free distribution of vapes to other consumer nicotine products, such as nicotine pouches. Clause 43 gives Scottish Ministers the equivalent regulation-making powers. Part 3 of the Bill provides for similar measures for Northern Ireland, which will be discussed separately. The measures will ensure that we have a consistent approach across our nations to protecting children from accessing other nicotine products and being exposed to the health harms and addictive nature of nicotine. They also address a point that was raised earlier by hon. Members.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and we must not replace one generation addicted to nicotine with another. Giving up nicotine is very difficult, because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Withdrawal symptoms can include cravings, irritability, anxiety, trouble concentrating, headaches and other mental symptoms. Evidence also suggests that the brain in adolescence is more sensitive to the effects of nicotine, so there could be additional risks for young people.

Under current legislation, there are no mandatory age restrictions on other consumer nicotine products. Although data suggests that the use of other nicotine products is low overall, there is a growing trend of use, particularly among adolescent boys, and there are indications that industry is beginning to encourage the uptake of other nicotine products. As we work to tackle youth vaping, it is important that there are not loopholes that can be exploited to put children at risk of nicotine addiction through the use of other nicotine products. That is why we are including powers to extend age of sale, proxy purchasing and age verification requirements to other nicotine products.

Clauses 10 and 43 are an important part of our work in ensuring that the collective package of measures in the Bill succeeds in protecting children from potential health harms. I therefore commend them to the Committee.

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

We support clause 10 as a tidying provision that ensures that the additional restrictions on the sale and free distribution of vaping products to under-18s can be extended to other nicotine products in England that have the potential to cause similar harms. It provides that the measures in clauses 7 to 9 can be extended to emerging products such as nicotine pouches, and clause 43 makes similar provisions for Scotland.

It is clearly not right that addictive nicotine products can be sold and freely distributed to children. Awareness of the products is growing, and legislation needs to keep up. According to research by Action on Smoking and Health, awareness and usage of nicotine pouches is higher among younger adults, and just over 5% of 18 to 24-year-olds have tried one. As with vapes, the marketing of nicotine pouches is likely to be attractive to children and young people, with similar branding to sweets and soft drinks. At present, a loophole means that it is not illegal to sell them to children, so I support the measures to close it.

Will the Minister set out her intentions with regard to the use of the new powers, and what conversations she has had with devolved nations on the issue? Will she also explain the Government’s view on the potential harms from the use of nicotine pouches? Does she believe that these products could have value as a stop-smoking aid, like vaping? What merit does she see in including the products in regulations similar to the tobacco-related products regulations for vapes? If she intends to introduce regulations on nicotine pouches, can she set out her intended timescale for that?

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

I support clause 10. We heard compelling evidence from Professor Gilmore last week about the tactics the industry uses to try to get young people addicted to nicotine, so that it can continue to profit from their buying the products for the rest of their lives. We also heard from Professor Gilmore about emerging evidence showing that exposure to nicotine at a young age, particularly as a teenager, can rewire the brain, making it more difficult to quit. I therefore welcome the powers in clause 10 that allow the Government to be flexible and respond to changing techniques in the market in order to stop children becoming addicted to nicotine, but why do we not just make it illegal to sell nicotine of any kind to children?

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

I appreciate being called to speak to clause 10, which is a very important part of the Bill. As we have heard many times already, the industry will look at every possible mechanism to try to bring about a new generation of people who are addicted to nicotine and make it harder for them to quit. That goes not just for people under 18 but for those in later adolescence and adulthood.

My concern is with products already on the market that are being taken up quite readily. Next week, the Health and Social Care Committee will look at the public health measures being taken in Sweden. We will see how nicotine pouches—snus, as they are referred to there—are being used as an alternative to smoking, really quite extensively.

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

Does the hon. Lady agree that nicotine pouches are starting to be marketed to young people in a similar way to vapes, with an increasing amount of flavours, a relatively inexpensive price per unit and horrifyingly high levels of nicotine?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point, which is certainly where I want to go with my speech. She is right: the industry will look at every single option to reformulate its products, including introducing nicotine pouches disguised with various flavours and colours—you name it, they will do it—to induce young people to engage with them. If we do not get ahead of the curve, the industry will be right there—I guarantee it.

We need to wise up to the tactics the industry has deployed over decades and recognise that, whether with pouches or something else further down the line, it is again on the move to sell its products in a reformulated way. I urge the Minister to look at whether this should be covered by secondary legislation—I know she is concerned about the amount of secondary legislation that will come through from the Bill—or in the Bill as vaping is.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Does the hon. Lady not accept the counter-argument that putting things in the Bill means that we have to change primary legislation, but that by doing things via regulations, the Government can make changes in a speedy fashion and combat big tobacco’s fleetness of foot in bringing terribly addictive new products to the market?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that, and I agree that we want to be able to adapt as soon as the market does, but right now the industry is promoting nicotine pouches and we must ensure that we take the earliest opportunity to bring them into the scope of legislation, so that the industry does not just think, “Well, we’ve got six months now to promote our product.” Given the way the industry is behaving, this is a bit like a game of cat and mouse, and we need to do whatever we can to ensure that we are ahead of the curve, whether that is through primary or secondary legislation.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the regulations are brought forward expeditiously and that the first set—we may need further sets; I appreciate what the hon. Member for Harrow East says—is introduced in the shortest time possible. Can she tell the Committee what the timescale will be for that, so that we know how quickly these other products will be brought within the scope of the Bill, ensuring that young people are protected?

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

I agree with the hon. Lady and with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. Clause 10 applies to clauses 7, 8 and 9, giving the Government flexibility on all three. As the hon. Lady said, it is great to have the flexibility to bring in regulations to amend clauses 8 and 9, but on clause 7, can she think of any good reason why we would want to be able to sell nicotine products to under-18s?

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

The hon. Lady is following up on a theme that I probed at earlier stages of the Bill, notably on Second Reading. I believe that we need to look at stringent measures, so that people do not have their choices restricted by the addiction that they adopt. It is really important that young people today, or anyone else who engages with these products, do not get addicted at an early stage. We have to look at the issue of the impact of addiction in that wider realm, as we are doing on the Health and Social Care Committee, which is looking at products that are addictive and harmful to health in connection with the public health measures that we are scrutinising.

The hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham makes an important point, and at a later stage of the legislative process I hope to examine how we address the drug nicotine and its harmful impacts on young people and more widely. Addiction has been utilised by people who exploit the lives of others for their own profit, and we need to ensure that they do not get the opportunity again with children, young people or adults. They plague those who live in the greatest deprivation in our country, driving them to more harmful addiction. I therefore welcome the legislation, but I believe that we can go further. Given the industry’s activities right at this moment in trying to find new ways around legislation before it is even on the statute book, the Committee needs to be wise about ensuring that it does not get that opportunity.

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

Everything that the hon. Member for York Central just said is worth reflecting on. Clause 43 applies to Scotland, and we are also talking about clause 10.

I spent a little time looking at nicotine pouches, which suddenly seem to be everywhere—or perhaps it is just that I am finding them advertised to me. I am definitely not the right person to advertise them to, but whenever I go on to social media, I inexplicably find them appearing before my eyes. There are a whole lot of questions around that. I will not be taking them, so that is fine, but other people will. We have heard about the uptake among young men in particular, which is concerning, because we heard some powerful evidence from health experts about the real harms that can be caused and the addiction that will follow people throughout their lives.

All the time, industry is finding new ways to hook young people. Some of the websites that I have looked at suggest that the pouches are a way to “avoid the health risk”. That is obviously not true—it is patent nonsense, actually. They also suggest that, for a sportsperson, “according to some reports”—that is me quoting again—there are “performance” benefits. Again, that is patent nonsense. It is obviously absolute rubbish, but I think it speaks to the narrative that surrounds pouches, as if they are somehow okay—a good thing—and they are not going to cause the harms that other nicotine-based products do. But of course these things will cause harm, and the addiction risk and health challenges are still there, too. The social normality, acceptability and prevalence of these things is deeply depressing. Their use by sportspeople in particular puts them across with some kind of veneer of being okay. They are not okay; they are deeply damaging to health.

Unsurprisingly, I am always keen to hear from the Minister about advertising and football strips, but to take that a step further, because we are talking about the same sports-based area, will she say how we can use legislation to keep ahead of companies that are so fleet of foot in hooking into things that people are interested in to promote these products directly or, more concerningly, indirectly?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 2:15, 9 May 2024

I wholeheartedly endorse almost everything I have heard. I share hon. Members’ concerns and applaud them for their commitment to solving the issue of nicotine pouches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East rightly pointed out, should the industry find a way around something in the Bill, we would have to legislate again with primary legislation. The right thing to do, therefore, is to take powers to make secondary legislation that gets on top of the issue and future-proofs us, so that right across the United Kingdom we can tackle this appalling scourge: the tobacco industry’s determination to get our children addicted.

Extraordinarily, the tobacco industry dominates the UK nicotine pouches market, and it claims to self-regulate—that is, it claims not to sell to under-18s. That is absolutely extraordinary. A recent study suggests that although nicotine pouch use is low among adults, with roughly one in 400 adults in Great Britain using them, nicotine pouches are increasingly popular with younger, largely male audiences. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has identified gaps in research and flagged that the long-term health harms are not known, but use by non-smokers is likely to be associated with some adverse health effects due to the nicotine.

We all know that other nicotine products need to be clamped down on. We will not need to consult on age of sale restrictions on nicotine products; we will be able to use regulations, hopefully in this Parliament, with implementation from 2025. It is certainly our plan to consult on all of this regulation to get ahead of nicotine pouches and other nicotine products with a view to implementing the regulations in 2025.

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

I do not know whether the Minister is aware that the strength of the nicotine in these products is excessively high—much higher than in other products—and so they rapidly bring about addiction. When the Government brought forward measures to try to educate the country about alcohol use, they did a comparison. Perhaps it would be helpful to do a comparison about the amount of nicotine that individuals are taking through a nicotine pouch, because the public would be alarmed to know that we are talking about their taking multiple factors of nicotine into their bodies.

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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right; they vary from 2 mg to 150 mg per pouch. I imagine that that variation would make it hard to provide a complete comparison, but she is quite right that education will be a big part of the implementation.

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

I think that most parents in my constituency would be horrified to think that nicotine pouches are available for sale to children. I appreciate that the Bill takes the power to ban nicotine products other than vaping products at a later date, but I would grateful if the Minister could explain why we should not ban the sale of nicotine to under-18s full stop. I do not understand why and in what circumstances anyone would ever wish under-18s to have nicotine sold to them.

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

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Bill takes powers to bring forward the age of sale restriction, and that in itself will not require further consultation. It is my expectation that, if possible, that will be brought forward in this Parliament. However, as has been explained, if we put something in the Bill, the industry will get around it by saying, for example, “This doesn’t contain nicotine”—except it does, as we have already seen.

The other thing I want to raise with hon. Members is that clauses 61 to 63, which will grant the ability to restrict flavours, packaging and location in store, will also apply to nicotine products. Those measures are clearly designed to reduce their attractiveness to children.

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

In response to my questions and accepting the clause as it is written, can the Minister give the Committee an assurance about when the regulations will be brought forward to ensure that products such as nicotine pouches will come within scope of the Bill?

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

All I can say to the hon. Lady is that she has heard me, and I am determined to bring that forward as soon as possible. There are good reasons for not putting the provision on the face of the Bill, which are to do with future-proofing. I can only give her my absolute assurance that, as soon as humanly possible, I will bring the regulations forward for consultation where necessary and for implementation where not.

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

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer, but I am still a bit confused. I can see the point she makes about the industry and the need to remain flexible; that is really important and why we support clause 10 —particularly in relation to sections 8 and 9, which are about the purchase of products on behalf of children. I welcome the fact that later in the Bill we will see restrictions on the appeal of the packaging of vaping and tobacco products, which will help to make them less attractive to children.

However, I still do not understand why any product containing nicotine would need to be available to children and why that would not be on the face of the Bill. If we were to specify nicotine pouches in the Bill, I see that that could be got around by calling them “nicotine gum” or something else, but if it said, “Nicotine—full stop—cannot be sold to under-18s,” that would be difficult to work around, because no nicotine product could be sold to under-18s. I expect that if I did a survey of parents in my constituency, most would presume that that was already the law.

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

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I will take away and reflect on. We have obviously already aired the discussion about the benefit of taking powers as opposed to putting something in primary legislation, but she makes a good point and I will come back to her.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

One of the challenges we are talking about is not only nicotine itself—we had medical evidence last week to suggest the damage it does to the body, let alone its delivery mechanisms—but the mixture of different routes by which it gets into the body. At the moment, evidence is emerging about the damage from the use of different accelerants to get nicotine into the body. Will the Minister consider what may need to be done about those particular types of chemicals and other methods that may need regulation to outlaw them, because of the damage that they do particularly to children and to all other vapers?

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

My hon. Friend makes a really good point. We have heard about some of the heavy metals and other carcinogens in vapes. The Bill is so comprehensive in banning things such as cigarette papers, herbal cigarettes and so on precisely because of other things that people put into their lungs. As the chief medical officer for England said, it is fine to drink a glass of water but have you ever tried inhaling one? It is not such a pleasant experience. He made the point that although it might be perfectly safe to eat a non-toxic flavour, it could be very different to inhale it.

As we heard last week, the fact of the matter is that there simply is not yet the evidence to say what some of these products do to human beings when inhaled. It is absolutely right that we protect children from those effects, hence this Bill. I hope that one of the outcomes of this legislation will be that we get far more evidence via independent research into the potential harms of first-hand vaping and other consumption of nicotine as well as second-hand consumption, which I know a number of hon. Members are interested in. I am sure we will come back to that in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.