New Clause 7 - Retail licence for sale of tobacco, vaping and nicotine products

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 14 May 2024.

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“(1) The Health Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 13 (Power to amend age for sale of tobacco etc.) insert—

“13A Retail licence for sale of tobacco, vaping and nicotine products

The Secretary of State may by regulations introduce a scheme in England to require a person to obtain a licence before selling tobacco, e-cigarettes, novel nicotine products and related goods.””—

This new clause would enable the Secretary of State to introduce by regulation schemes to require the licensing of sale of tobacco, vaping or nicotine products.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 8—Sale of tobacco, vaping and nicotine products—

The Secretary of State may by regulations limit the places in England where tobacco, vaping or nicotine products are available for retail sale.”

This new clause enables the Secretary of State to limit by regulation where tobacco, vaping or nicotine products can legally be made available for sale.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

There is a degree of repetition in this. New clauses 7 and 8 relate to where tobacco products are sold and the licensing of them. There is a genuine debate, in both the industry and the House, about whether we should have a licensing scheme for tobacco, vaping and other nicotine products. These two new clauses would allow the Secretary of State to introduce regulations both on a licensing scheme and to limit the products that would be made available for sale in particular premises. The whole purpose behind this provision would be to say that the individuals who are selling these products would have to apply for a licence. Presumably, after a consultation, there would be a licence fee. That would add to the ability of the enforcement agencies to know that these products were properly licensed and being sold from licensed premises.

There is of course the issue that this could limit the number of retailers that would be able to sell such products. One concern that I have in this regard is not so much on tobacco but on vaping. We have seen, up and down the country, the rapid growth of stores selling just vaping products. They have—without doubt, without question—been selling to younger people, and we are concerned about the rapid growth of those particular areas.

There has been quite considerable legislation limiting tobacco sales over the years. We can go back over the age of sale. We can talk about the advertising displays. We can talk about keeping the products literally behind shutters so that people have to ask for the products rather than their being openly and clearly available. The two new clauses would get us to a position whereby there would be a requirement for the proper regulation of those markets. I know that the intent behind the Bill is to create a smoke-free generation, but we are taking on the vaping issue as well. At this stage, we propose that, if such a scheme were to be introduced, the Secretary of State would need to consult on those issues. I do not intend to prevent the Bill from progressing, but the Secretary of State will need to consider these things, whether during the later stages of the Bill or subsequently.

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

I do not have much to add, but note that when the Bill was introduced some in the tobacco industry lobbied MPs to include a licensing scheme for vapes only. It would be an egregious situation if we were to take a stronger stance on vapes than on tobacco, which is the real killer. I suspect they hoped for the inclusion of something like that primarily because it would slow the Bill down. I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East for tabling a more balanced new clause, which would introduce licensing schemes for tobacco products as well as for nicotine products and vapes.

I have some questions for the Minister. Will she set out why the Government have not opted to set up a licensing scheme for tobacco and vapes? We have a licensing scheme for alcohol in England and Wales, but the Government have never sought to extend it to tobacco, although it would help us to identify shops that sell the products and streamline our enforcement efforts. I appreciate that many of sanctions related to licensing that are often cited, such as the power to take a licence away, are perhaps a less strong argument in relation to this Bill, because we have restricted premises and restricted sales orders, but I am interested in the Minister’s views.

On illicit products, the Government have introduced a track and trace system for tobacco, which is a useful component in monitoring the flow and patterns in the trade in tobacco products around the country. Given the improved provisions for product IDs, which will come into effect for products entering the country when the new vaping excise duty is introduced, we remarked in Committee that this could be an opportunity to look at setting up something similar for nicotine and vaping products.

I fully appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Harrow East that enforcement will be crucial to the Bill’s success, but my view is that our priority must be to make a success of the enforcement regime that the Bill introduces before considering the case for further regulation. There probably will be a case for further regulation in future.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, and to the hon. Member for York Central, who proposed a similar licensing scheme; other amendments that have not been debated also proposed the creation of a licensing scheme.

I was frank this morning, and I will be again: the proposal sounds like a licence for those with licences to squeeze out those who cannot get licences and therefore to build more market share for themselves, enabling them to funnel their energy into getting more children addicted to nicotine. That is my personal view. We can debate whether that is the likely result, but it seems extraordinary that the vaping industry should be so in favour of licensing when, on the face of it, it is so clearly against its interests. I find its backing of it quite cynical.

From a practical point of view, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs already operates a track and trace system for tobacco products, which tracks their movement from supply through to sale. Every business involved in the supply of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco must be registered on the tobacco track and trace system, and HMRC can penalise businesses for non-compliance, including by removing their ability to legally buy or sell tobacco products, in the most serious of cases.

As Members will recall, in oral evidence the Chartered Trading Standards Institute told the Committee that HMRC’s track and trace scheme gives many of the same benefits as it would want from a licensing scheme. The Government also plan to introduce a new excise duty on vaping products. HMRC is currently consulting on the new vaping duty, and that consultation has a question about whether to introduce a track and trace system for vaping products to regulate the supply chain. That consultation will close on 29 May, and I feel it would be inappropriate to bring forward a licensing scheme for vapes when the ability to track these products from supply to sale is currently under consideration.

More widely, as we have heard in Committee, trading standards already has a range of levers with which to tackle illicit tobacco and vapes and under-age sales, and to punish those irresponsible retailers that do not follow the rules, and that includes imposing a restricted premises or sales order for repeat offences. As hon. Members know, that would prevent businesses or individuals from selling tobacco or vaping products for a set amount of time. To strengthen this deterrent, the Bill also introduces fixed penalty notices, which we have already debated. The measures provide benefits similar to any proposed licensing regime, so we do not think that licensing is necessary or proportionate, and in fact, as I have said, my concern is that it would encourage the vaping industry to improve its profitability.

Finally, the new clauses may impact on current adult smokers. When designing the Bill, we have been careful not to penalise current adult smokers. Instead, we are taking strong action to help current smokers to quit, including by providing an additional £70 million a year to local authority-led stop-smoking services, investing in a new incentives programme to support pregnant women and their partners to quit, and providing £15 million a year for stop-smoking campaigns. For those reasons, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his new clauses to a vote.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:45, 14 May 2024

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.