Clause 62 - Contents and flavour of vaping products and nicotine products

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 14 May 2024.

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

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

This clause provides the Department of Health and Social Care Secretary of State with a power to regulate the contents and flavour of vaping products and nicotine products.

Vaping is never recommended for children and, as we have just discussed, risks addiction and long-term health impacts. We know that children are attracted to the fruit and sweet flavours of vapes, both in their taste and smell, as well as how they are described. For example, the most frequently used vape flavouring for children is fruit flavour, with 60% of children who currently vape using them; and 17% of children who vape choose sweet flavours such as chocolate or candy.

We also recognise the importance of vape flavours to adult smokers who are looking to quit smoking. It is, therefore, important that we carefully consider the scope and impact of restrictions so that we reduce the appeal of vaping to children, while avoiding any unintended consequences on adult smoking rates. We have committed to consult on any regulatory measures regarding flavours. I can tell the Committee that I had an interesting roundtable with members of the public health sector, who were themselves entirely divided on whether reducing vapes significantly would encourage adult smokers to carry on smoking, rather than turning to vaping. It is a very live issue, at which we need to look carefully.

To achieve these aims, the clause will enable the Government to make regulations in future to regulate the substances and the amount of any given substance that may be used in vaping or other nicotine products, as well as the flavours of those products. That also means that regulations are future-proofed in the event of new nicotine products coming to market; we will be able to regulate any new nicotine product, and protect our children from future addiction and health harms. I commend the clause to the Committee.

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

I thank the Minister for her explanation of the clause. As I have already outlined, we are very concerned about the explosion in under-age vaping in recent years, with youth use trebling in the past two years alone. I think I speak for everyone in the Labour party when I say that we have been very concerned about some of the products appearing on our local shop shelves, which are obviously marketed to children.

I do not want to lump the whole of the industry in together, but some of these companies are clearly linked to big tobacco and have used big tobacco-style tactics to target youngsters. They see the way things are going with smoking and have sought to addict a new generation through vapes and other products. We therefore support the clause, which will allow us to stop products with flavours mimicking popular sweets or with bizarre names like “unicorn shake” from sucking young people and other vulnerable non-smokers in. I am afraid to say that the Government have been asleep at the wheel on this issue, and there has been a bit of a free-for-all as a result. I was flabbergasted to learn from the MHRA that something like 600,000 different vaping products have gone through the notification process and can legally be sold in the UK now.

All that said, I do appreciate the genuine and legitimate concern from people who have used vapes to help them quit smoking that, in seeking to course correct, the Government could go too far in the other direction and take away the flavours that they enjoy and feel have helped them stay off cigarettes. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside has raised concerns to that effect, and I want to reassure her that we are committed to consulting on this issue before introducing regulations, so that we can get the balance right.

I have mentioned on previous clauses that when it comes to tobacco regulation, some of the restrictions on flavours have been among the least successful of any regulations brought in by successive Governments in recent decades. In the disappointment of the menthol ban is the cautionary tale that implementing these regulations will take thought and care. Similarly, the quagmire that the Food and Drug Administration in the US has sunk into is something we should obviously seek to avoid. I wonder if the Minister could therefore comment on what lessons she has drawn from the US, where the blanket ban on flavours has seen only a few dozen products approved for legal sale in three years, while illegal products remain widely available in stores.

The key issue we need to crack is what the best way is of dealing with flavours—is it descriptors, ingredients or the characterising flavour itself? On the latter point, I have already mentioned the menthol ban. Can the Minister please set out her view on how to proceed, given that the Bill leaves the specifics of how to implement restrictions on flavours quite open, including how the flavour of a product is to be determined. Has she conducted a systematic review of how Governments in other jurisdictions have sought to tackle this? Given our desire to protect the use of vapes as a smoking cessation aid, can she set out how restrictive she thinks regulations on flavours should be? Would she go as far as Canada in banning all fruit flavours, for instance? Given that the powers in the clause may be some of the trickiest to implement, I would be grateful if she could devote time in her response to answering these questions.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I rise in support of clause 62, noting the two amendments proposed by a Member not on the Committee that would have removed the power of the Secretary of State to deal with flavours. I consider it vital that the Secretary of State can make regulations about flavours of vaping products and nicotine products. As has been said, this is a much-needed power to help curb youth vaping.

The chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty spoke very strongly when giving evidence to the Committee. He said:

“We are strongly supportive of Ministers in all four nations having the power to regulate flavours…We know that otherwise the vape industry will use this to essentially drive a coach and horses through the aims of the Bill, which is to make products less attractive to children”.––[Official Report, Tobacco and Vapes Public Bill Committee, 1 May 2024; c. 74, Q103.]

Indeed, literally overnight Action on Smoking and Health has published data showing that youth vaping has stabilised. That is the good news. The bad news is that 7.6% of 11 to 17-year-olds regularly vape. That is above the pre-pandemic level of 4.4%, so it has almost doubled since then. Young people are being encouraged to become addicted to vaping and will potentially go on to even more harmful products.

Exposure to marketing is also up. Some 55% of young people are exposed to vaping in shops, where vapes are on full display, and nearly a third are exposed to vaping online, so we need to take action. The measures in the Bill, particularly in this clause, will make starting to vape far less attractive to young people. That is why it is essential that it remains part of the Bill. I hope that as the Bill progresses we can resist further proposals that might seek to remove this measure from the Bill.

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

The clause is important. We have had discussions here and listened to experts in numerous sessions, which should give us a real opportunity to pause and consider why the measure is necessary. We know the incredible damage that smoking does to far too many lives and the importance of assisting people to stop smoking. Vaping can certainly be an important and helpful part of smoking cessation—that must be acknowledged.

I find it difficult, though, to imagine that many people successfully stop smoking by using a hot pink disposable pocket-money costing vape in “candy floss unicorn” flavour. That is not what those are for nor what they are aimed at. Action to deal with flavourings, as well as names and descriptions and so on, is essential. We are more than able to deal with smoking cessation and the importance of supporting that at the same time as dealing with the harms of vaping. I would be interested if the Minister could tell us about lessons from elsewhere about how that has successfully been done.

It is important to reiterate the significant numbers of youths who vape: 7.6% of 11 to 17-year-olds currently vape. That is not those who have tried vaping. For those who have tried vaping, the numbers are significantly higher and they are absolutely targeted by marketing. Even those numbers—which, as the mother of teenagers, certainly will give me further grey hair—are partly because of the exposure to marketing. We know that wherever we are and whichever shop we go into, we see attractive displays of vapes, and the flavours are a part of those displays. More than half of young people have felt exposed to that kind of marketing in shops, and nearly a third online. The Minister will not be surprised to hear me remind the Committee that people are also exposed to the advertising when they go to watch their favourite sports teams. That is wholly unacceptable and indefensible.

I support the clause, although I think more could be done, but that will come up in our later conversations.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

I want to speak briefly in support of the clause. I am frustrated that we would need yet more consultation when there is an awful lot of evidence to support prohibiting the tactics, branding and sweet flavourings. Indeed, that was recommended by the Khan review. I am frustrated that I tabled an amendment to this effect in 2021. If it had been passed instead of being voted down by the Government, fewer children would be addicted to nicotine now.

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

I share the views expressed here today that we have got to stop the marketing aimed at children in the brutal and cynical way that is happening right now. Hon. Members will appreciate that the limiting of flavours is a tricky thing to achieve. Is it the name of the flavour? Is it the ingredients in the flavour? Is it a combination of the ingredients and the flavours?

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

The Minister is making a considered point. The Committee has received research data from ASH that highlights how complex the issue is. Although 50% of child vapers preferred fruit flavours, 47% of adult vapers also preferred fruit flavours. We therefore have to consult on and take these issues forward in a very considered way, because we do not want to undermine the harm reduction from helping adults who are trying to stop smoking.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 11:00, 14 May 2024

My hon. Friend is exactly right. There is another factor, of course, which is that a lot of these vape flavours are non-toxic for consumption only, as the chief medical officer has pointed out. As he said to me, “If you drink a glass of water, it’s fine, isn’t it? But if you breathe it in, it’s not quite so fine.” That is a slightly silly example, but the point is that a flavour that might be fine if it was in an ice cream could have a very different impact if it was breathed in—we just do not know. It is therefore important that we consult further. As my hon. Friend and others have said, we must ensure we do not remove the ability of adult smokers to use vapes as a quit aid, but we must stop them being marketed to children.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.