Clause 79 - Commencement

Part of Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14 May 2024.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:00, 14 May 2024

I rise to support the amendment and new clause tabled in my name. I will save the Committee time and will not go through the amendment in detail, because obviously colleagues have it in front of them. The key point is that the new clause would introduce a requirement on tobacco, herbal smoking or vaping product businesses to operate an age verification policy, covering steps to be taken to establish the age of persons attempting to buy tobacco, herbal smoking or vaping products or cigarette papers. It reflects that which is already in place in Scotland, where mandatory age verification has been a legal requirement for tobacco and vapes since 2017. A survey of independent UK tobacco retailers for Action on Smoking and Health in 2022 found that 83% supported the introduction of mandatory age verification for anyone aged under 25, with only 5% opposing it, and 91% supported it in Scotland, where it is already in force, with only 4% opposed to it.

I think we should take a lead from our colleagues in Scotland on this particular issue. The Scottish legislation is supported by guidance from the Scottish Government and the Government worked with trade bodies to ensure that retailers understood it. The Scottish legislation provides a legal underpinning to the voluntary Challenge 25 scheme, which operates in the rest of the United Kingdom. A voluntary scheme such as Challenge 25 is by definition inconsistent in its application, leaving some customers unsure about whether they will need to provide proof of age. Seeking verification for anyone who looks under 25 is in line with the legislation for alcohol and is supported by retailers and by the Association of Convenience Stores.

One of the key challenges we face in this Bill is that of workers in retail units challenging people about whether they are old enough to buy such products. The new clause would make it clear that they have a requirement to do so, which would be a good defence for them when they are challenged by their customers.

As the explanatory notes to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill set out, the Bill updates the Scottish legislation to ensure that age verification is consistently and appropriately applied in line with the new age of sale restrictions for tobacco products, herbal smoking products and cigarette papers. Ensuring consistency in the application of age verification is just as important for the other nations of the United Kingdom as it is for Scotland. Why should the Scots have this and not the rest of the United Kingdom?