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

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

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 2:30, 14 May 2024

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.