Clause 39 - Repeal of offence of purchasing tobacco products by under 18s

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 14 May 2024.

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

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 40 stand part.

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

Clause 39 repeals the offence for someone under the age of 18 in Scotland to buy or attempt to buy a tobacco product or cigarette paper. Clause 40 repeals the power for constables in Scotland to confiscate a tobacco product or cigarette paper from someone in a public place who they suspect is under 18. These provisions were originally made in the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010.

The clauses ensure that legislation in Scotland is in line with that in England and Wales and mean that it will no longer be an offence for someone under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy these products, and that police officers will no longer have the power to confiscate these products. With the change to age of sale, it was no longer considered necessary to retain these provisions.

This change will ensure that no one is criminalised for their addiction to nicotine. The Bill also repeals the equivalent powers on confiscation for England and Wales in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, so we are doing the same for Scotland. I therefore commend these clauses to the Committee.

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

I turn to part 2 of the Bill and some of the clauses that apply specifically to Scotland. As the Minister mentioned, Scotland has a proud history of leading on many tobacco control methods, including beating the rest of the UK in introducing regulations to prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces in 2005. That was the crowning achievement of a proud public health legacy left by the last Labour Governments in Westminster and in Holyrood. I am pleased to see the constructive attitude taken by the Scottish Government to the Bill to avoid any unnecessary regulatory divergence and to offer more certainty for business and consistency for consumers.

Clause 39, as the Minister has said, relates to the repeal of section 5 of the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010, which made it an offence for someone under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy a tobacco product or cigarette papers. As I mentioned in the first sitting, the correct approach is to focus the enforcement of the law on the retailer, not the purchaser. Established businesses should be expected to take a greater degree of responsibility than children, and the law should reflect that. It should be our priority to help children addicted to nicotine, rather than penalise them.

Moreover, I take the Minister’s point that this change will make the law easier to interpret and enforce. Where possible, we do not want to diffuse responsibilities between retailers and customers, or indeed the enforcement authorities that attend to them. I am satisfied that if we have strong and consistent enforcement of the responsibility of retailers to implement age of sale law, that would achieve the same outcomes that the 2010 Act intended.

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

As we have heard, part 2 of the Bill relates specifically to Scotland and clauses 39 and 40 repeal particular offences. Clause 39 repeals an offence unique to Scotland—the purchasing of tobacco products by under-18s. That was introduced in 2010 and has been criticised for some time because of the unnecessary criminalisation of young people with a nicotine addiction. The change has been requested by the Scottish Government. Clause 40 repeals the power of the police to confiscate tobacco products from people who they suspect are under 18. Again, the power is unique to Scotland and it is seen as difficult to use. I therefore welcome these clauses as they stand.

It is correct to say that Scotland has been a world leader on a range of tobacco control measures, and there has been a steady reduction in the proportion of people smoking, but we know that far too many lives are still damaged and far too many people are still killed by tobacco. Obviously, we are aware of the huge burden on the NHS and social care services, and we know about the significant health inequalities that underlie much of that. Clauses 39 and 40 are sensible because they allow operations on the ground in Scotland to move forward in a more unified and logical manner. We welcome the new age regime and the greater power for Scottish Ministers to tackle youth smoking and vaping.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 39 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 40 to 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.