Clause 11 - Displays of vaping and nicotine products

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 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 the following:

Clause 45 stand part.

Clause 54 stand part.

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

Clause 11 provides a regulation-making power to allow the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in England and the Welsh Ministers in Wales to introduce future restrictions or requirements on the display of vaping and nicotine products, and their packaging and pricing where they are offered for sale. Clause 45 provides the same regulation-making power to Scottish Ministers, and clause 54 provides the power to Northern Ireland.

At this point, I would like to reiterate our plans for future vaping regulations, including on vape displays. I have made a commitment to consult on future regulations. Any regulations made will be accompanied by clear impact assessments. We will introduce new regulations as soon as possible following the passage of the Bill.

We simply cannot replace one generation addicted to nicotine with another, and we know that giving up nicotine is so difficult because the body must get used to functioning without it. Withdrawal symptoms can include cravings, irritability, anxiety, trouble concentrating, headaches and other mental symptoms. Despite this very clear health advice, there has been a significant and alarming rise in the number of children vaping in this country. Data shows that the number of young people vaping has tripled in just the last three years, and now one in five children has used a vape. That is alarming and unacceptable.

Evidence shows us that vapes are currently far too easily accessible to children within shops. Vapes are sometimes displayed alongside sweets and confectionery in retail environments, and often promoted in shopfront windows. These products are too easily seen and too readily available to children, and we have a duty to protect our children from harm. These clauses therefore provide regulation-making powers for new restrictions on where and how vapes and nicotine products can be displayed within a retail setting, and ensure that we are aligned right across the United Kingdom. The display restrictions will include both packaging and pricing. Future regulations on point-of-sale displays will help to reduce the ease of access to vapes to children, and the degree to which vapes can be targeted at children. These are important clauses to help us tackle youth vaping and to protect children from addiction and future health harms.

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

We welcome the inclusion of these powers to regulate the display of nicotine and vaping products in retail settings. All of us have seen what has been happening in some shops: as the Minister said, colourful products that look like confectionery kept next to the pick ’n’ mix at pocket money prices. I appreciate that some in the sector have concerns that regulations on point-of-sale displays need to be balanced in respect of their impact on retailers, given existing restrictions on products like tobacco and some of the associated costs. In my view, however, there is no argument against the inclusion of the powers themselves.

I heard from a retail worker at a major supermarket chain that they are paid by the vaping companies to put displays of vapes in prominent locations in their stores. These are often far away from the tills, where there is little to no oversight by staff. I was told that where children once shoplifted sweets, they are now going straight for these products. One worries that the vape companies are almost happy to lose them, if they can get a new customer addicted who they know will come back for more.

None the less, I want to highlight that there appears to be broad support for some restrictions on the display of vapes among retailers. I note that in the Action on Smoking and Health survey of retailers in England and Wales, 80% of tobacco retailers supported prohibiting advertising and promotion of vapes or vaping products in store, and requiring them to be put behind the counter; only 12% were opposed. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined whether it is her firm view—she has alluded to it—that vapes should be kept behind the counter, or whether display should be prohibited entirely, which seems to be what the Government have looked at in their impact assessment. Alternatively, does she feel that further consultation is necessary?

I would also like to raise other questions about the potential for such regulations to be undermined. Clause 34 of the Bill provides an interpretation of terms used in part 1 of the Bill, but it does not define “retailer”. I therefore wonder whether other forms of display for sale would be caught under the powers as drafted here. I am thinking of vape vending machines, which are not in widespread use now but could be in the future.

Have her officials looked at that issue? Given the introduction of some vending machines with automated age verification features, has the Minister considered prohibiting vape vending machines, as has happened in Scotland? We can easily see how this situation could undermine the consistency of regulations on displays.

We need clarity that vending machines could be included in the regulation-making powers granted under this or other clauses. I have no desire to divide the Committee on these clauses and support their inclusion, but I would be grateful to hear from the Minister.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 2:30, 9 May 2024

If I might be so bold, I think the Minister is making life slightly complicated for herself. We know the impact that taking smoking products out of the line of sight of people who go into shops or supermarkets has had. Putting them in closed cabinets has very much had the effect that we would want. People do not see the products, but they have to request them; they are not on display for people to just glance an eye over. They are simply not there in the line of sight.

If the same legislation applied to all vaping and nicotine products, that would make things simpler for shopkeepers and supermarkets. They already have the shelving and the shutters; it is not as if they would have to make a financial investment in new shelving. They would not have to do anything different—just pick up the vapes and put them into a contained, enclosed space. I do not see any reason why that could not be in primary legislation, because it would be so simple, and I believe the expectation of the public is already there.

I walked down a street in York just the other day, and almost every shop had their little vape display. Putting them behind the counter, behind screens, behind shutters, would be the simplest method of dealing with that. We know it is effective for smoking. There is no reason why tobacco products should be dealt with at a different standard than vaping products when people go to purchase them, and we would get the effect of “out of sight, out of mind”. We know how much the industry spends on packaging to draw the eye to products, and how powerful that is. Putting them out of sight would have the required effect of reducing people’s thinking about those products.

Simplifying and bringing the legislation into line, for shopkeepers, the public and for us as legislators would meet the public expectation that this is what will happen. I do not think we need separate legislation to deal with vapes one way and smoking products another. Let us just pool it together, make it simple and say that this is about protecting the public. I do not think anyone will bat an eyelid.

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

I rise in support of clause 11 on restricting the display of vaping and nicotine products. I have been horrified to see that after the Government, with good intentions, made it difficult for children to see sweets at the counter, to reduce pester power and help protect them from obesity, the sweets were in many cases replaced by vapes. The Government are doing exactly the right thing in taking the powers to look at displays. As has been mentioned, the ability and flexibility of doing so through regulations means that we can move swiftly when the industry seeks to get round the latest rules. I think that is great.

I have two examples for the Minister. Would they be covered by paragraph (1)(c)? The first is a mini-mart in Grantham. The entire shop window is covered in pictures of things such as Kinder chocolate, Haribos, fruit and very large-size vape devices in bright colours. I was in WH Smith in Nottingham last weekend; this is a shop that sells children’s books, children’s toys, sweets and children’s stationery, yet at the till there is a very large video display of vape adverts immediately behind the shopkeeper’s head. Will these two types of advertising and display be covered by the regulations?

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

Again, I appreciate the sentiments expressed and associate myself with all of them. The hon. Member for York Central requested that we put in primary legislation that vapes must be behind the counter. It is clear from the impact assessment and the consultation that that is the intention. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham points out, the reason for taking the powers is that doing so allows us to stay ahead of the next place they might be sold, for instance outside the shop, on a bus or outside a school—we can imagine all sorts of other ideas. It is important to have the regulations to get ahead of other ideas, rather than saying, “They shall be behind the counter.” That is why we are taking regulatory powers right across the Bill, so that answer holds for all the areas in which we are taking powers: we are taking them to stay ahead of an industry that has shown itself to be very imaginative and brutal in its determination to addict children. We need to stay one step ahead, and that is the plan.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

Something has occurred to me rather later than sooner, as things often do. Vape shops are prolific in our town centres. Can anything be done to limit young people’s access to those shops, for instance a minimum age of entry, so that no one under 18 should be on the premises? I do not think that we have thought about that hitherto in our discussions.

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

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s suggestion, and I will take it away and look at it. The immediate thing that springs to mind is that if someone is out with their children, it is difficult for them to say, “You stand out there; I am going in.” That could give parents concern. I take the point that, in a vape shop, someone cannot say, “Go and look at the toys while I choose my vapes,” but I can imagine all sorts of objections from a practical point of view. However, I will take the suggestion away and reflect on it.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is it not the case that children are not allowed in bookies and betting shops? That is perhaps a similar situation.

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

As I say, I accept the hon. Lady’s point and will reflect on it.

The broader point is that there is obviously a balance here. We want to exclude vapes from children, but we do not want to exclude vapes from adults who want to quit smoking, because that is the real prize that we are seeking to hang on to. The more difficult we make it for adults to access vapes as a quit aid, the more we are discouraging adults who, we have all agreed—violently—we want to stop smoking. That is the killer.

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

The Minister is making an extremely important point: we have to do everything in a proportionate manner. Although we need to protect children, and do not want children—I have children of my own—to take up vaping in childhood or have access to vapes, vaping can be a harm-reduction approach for adults. Putting vapes behind the counter, like tobacco, might go against some of the evidence we heard about the harm of vaping being much less than that of smoking itself. It could perhaps give the wrong impression to the public: that vaping is not a harm-reduction tool, that it is not going to be useful to them, and that it is in the same category as smoking itself.

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

My hon. Friend highlights exactly the challenge, which is the balance between helping adults to stop smoking, where turning to vapes can be the most successful tool in the toolkit, and preventing children from ever taking up and becoming addicted to nicotine.

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

I have a question, but I appreciate that the Minister may not know the answer. Adults who wish to stop smoking have many smoking services that they can go to for advice, such as their GP or pharmacist. Other mechanisms of giving up smoking, such as Nicorette gum and nicotine patches, are available, but they are nowhere near as widely advertised as vapes. Does the Minister think that smokers are unaware of them?

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

That is a very tricky question to answer. I certainly think that stop-smoking services are fully aware of all the different alternatives that an individual can take up. There is of course the question raised in previous discussions, which nobody has raised today, about whether there should be a prescription-only vape. Many people would say, “No, I want the convenience of buying a vape. I don’t want to have to go and get a prescription, argue why I need it, and so on. I’d rather just buy one.” There is a genuine issue of convenience and accessibility, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is vital that stop-smoking services set out the whole array of different choices to help adult smokers to quit, and that will include vapes. The evidence is that vapes are particularly successful in helping adults to quit smoking.

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

My point was about that balance between protecting children and making adult smokers aware that they can use vapes to quit or to change their habit to one that may be safer for them. There seems to be a reluctance to apply stringent methods that would protect children in order to protect adults. My point on advertising was really about whether adults are any less aware of gums and patches because they are not as floridly advertised as vapes. Do we really need to be as sensitive in protecting adults, or should we prioritise the protection of our children?

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

Intellectually and morally, I completely agree that we need to protect children, and that is the priority. I think the Bill will do exactly that. We are taking the powers to restrict the flavours, the location and the accessibility, and we are massively ramping up enforcement. All of the measures that we are taking are exactly designed to strike the right balance between helping adults to quit smoking and protecting children.

I want to address one other point raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston on vending machines, and I think the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire also raised it. There will be powers taken in the Bill to limit the use of vending machines for vapes. At the moment, the evidence is that it is not a real problem; vapes do not tend to be sold in vending machines. We need to take the powers, as I have already said, so that we can stay ahead of whatever approach is taken next by the tobacco industry.

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

May I push on that point? Does that mean that the Government will accept new clause 16—the vending machine clause?

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

We are not at that point yet. We will come to those amendments and new clauses as and when.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.