New Clause 9 - Prohibition of sponsorship: vaping substances containing nicotine

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 14 May 2024.

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“(1) A person who is party to a sponsorship agreement is guilty of an offence if the purpose or effect of anything done as a result of the agreement is to promote a vaping substance containing nicotine in the United Kingdom.

(2) A sponsorship agreement is an agreement under which, in the course of business, a party to it makes a contribution towards something, whether the contribution is in money or takes any other form (for example, the provision of services or of contributions in kind).

(3) A person does not commit an offence under this section—

(a) where it is alleged that the purpose of what was done as a result of the agreement was to promote a vaping substance containing nicotine in the United Kingdom, if the person did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that that was its purpose, or

(b) where it is alleged that the effect of what was done as a result of the agreement was to promote a vaping substance containing nicotine in the United Kingdom, if the person could not reasonably have foreseen that that would be its effect.

(4) A person does not commit an offence under this section if he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the contribution referred to in subsection (2) was made in the course of business.

(5) This section comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.

(6) The day specified may not be later than 1 June 2026.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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

As Members can see, new clause 9 seeks to stamp out the advertising of vape products in sports. We can all—or perhaps just those who spend more time than we should watching football—think back to days in the past when our favourite football teams ran about the park with cigarettes advertised on their shirts. We would find that quite unthinkable now; it would just be unacceptable. Similarly, we would find it unacceptable if our sports stadiums were named after tobacco companies or cigarette brands, but it is still possible—in fact, it is happening—that sports kits and sports grounds are sponsored by vape companies. I cannot think that should be acceptable when we look at the comparators, and I do not think sports is an appropriate place for vape advertising.

In the evidence sessions, experts told us about the deeply challenging impact on young people of vapes and vaping. We know that it impacts on their education as well as on their health. We heard this morning in the recent statistics from ASH that a very significant proportion of our young people are vaping. We need to deal with that. The vast majority of those young people have never been smokers, so this is not vaping for the purposes of smoking cessation, but a new addiction that has taken hold. It is our responsibility to try to deal with that. We will have to deal with it while being aware of the incredible and fast-moving marketing and product development that the industry has shown it is all too capable of bringing to bear. We also heard from the chief medical officers, who were uniformly keen that sports should be a positive influence. Anyone can go back and read the transcripts to see how they variously described it, but that was certainly the order of the day.

Smoking cessation is important, and smoking cessation and sport are things that can be positively connected, but that is very much not what is happening. We need to be clear that young people are seeing sports and vaping together, when we really should be taking steps to prevent young people who have never smoked from seeing vaping as something they may want to do. I have heard others say that now is not the time to do this—that we should not use this Bill. I have to say that yes, this is absolutely the time for us to do it. If it is not this Bill, then I really begin to wonder what on earth would be the vehicle for us to take this step. This is the time.

People may be fed up of me speaking about this—I am almost fed up of me speaking about this. I have spoken about this for years, on and on and on, but I am going to keep speaking about it until it is fixed. I want the Committee to think carefully about it. I am sure Committee members may have noticed that, through whatever stroke of good luck, I have had the first question in the last two Prime Minister’s questions, and I have asked the Prime Minister to think very carefully about this issue. It is something that is very important for all of us in this place to do. I hope we are now getting to the point where we agree that it is time for us to act, that this is the vehicle where action is best placed and that we should put a stop to vape advertising in sports, once and for all.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank the hon. Lady for tabling the new clause. We will come to further new clauses that deal with advertising for vaping products. We are clearly now in the position whereby if anyone suggested that football teams should have tobacco advertising on their shirts, they would be laughed out of court. That is equally true in all the other circumstances that the hon. Lady described.

I have a lot of sympathy with this proposal, but I am slightly concerned that it is limited to particular sporting events. In my view, we need a comprehensive ban on the promotion of vaping products. When the chief medical officer gave evidence to the Committee, he rightly said that if you smoke, it is safer to vape, but do not take up vaping. We should not be allowing vaping companies to advertise their wares, particularly to younger people. As I said this morning, 7.6% of young people aged 11 to 17 are regularly vaping. That is a serious concern, because they will be addicted to nicotine and will probably have to escalate their nicotine demand as time goes on.

My concern is that the new clause does not go far enough. The hon. Lady has raised the issue on several occasions, and is rightly banging the drum. I agree with her: it is a disgrace. I think I am right in saying that Blackburn Rovers football club just agreed a sponsorship deal for their shirts with a vaping product, which is a great shame, but it has chosen to do that.

The chief medical officer also said that, right now, the vaping industry does not have a product that doctors could prescribe to help people to quit smoking. That is a challenge for the industry. If it is serious about encouraging people to quit smoking, it needs to develop a product that doctors can prescribe and help people to quit smoking. If it is not going to develop that product, that demonstrates that all it is trying to do is to hook people on to nicotine.

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

The hon. Gentleman is generous in taking my interventions. I am not entirely sure that these two things are totally connected. He is quite right that the vaping industry has questions to answer, but I do not think that has anything at all to do with whether it should be okay to advertise vaping companies and vaping products on football shirts, on sports stadiums or in any other way that is proximate to sport. We need to be clear that this practice specifically needs to be stamped out. On the questions the vaping industry has to answer, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I have the same ones; we can crack on and get them answered, but let us not not do this.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Lady asks for. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, in dealing with this new clause and the other new clauses about advertising, to go away and come up with a comprehensive series of amendments that will ban advertising for vaping products in their entirety—not just in sports stadiums and not just on sports shirts, but comprehensively, right across the piece. We can then all support that and make sure we deliver it in the Bill.

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

I thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire for tabling the new clause. We absolutely share her concern: we must ensure that children are not exposed to marketing and branding that encourages them to vape. I echo the comments of the chief medical officer: if you do not smoke, do not vape. These are not products for children, and we are determined to crack down on companies trying to addict a new generation to nicotine. The principle that the hon. Lady has raised is really important, which is exactly why the previous Labour Government legislated to end sponsorship by tobacco companies.

Although sponsorship for vapes is not prohibited outright, as it is for tobacco, there are clear restrictions on how vapes and nicotine products can be marketed at and advertised to children. For example, the 2016 regulations prohibit e-cigarette product placement or any sponsorship promoting e-cigarettes on radio and TV programmes, where they are most likely to be widely seen. Most crucially, they ban ads for nicotine-containing vapes from most online media, including social media. The very limited exception to that is factual, not promotional, claims on companies’ own websites.

Why has the Minister not aligned the legislation in this respect with the extension of other regulations that we have discussed in Committee? Elsewhere, non-nicotine vapes and other nicotine products are essentially treated under the same regulations as those that affect nicotine vapes.

I again thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire for sharing her concerns, which I fully appreciate. I hope the Minister takes this proposal away and looks at it more closely. The restrictions on broadcast sponsorship aside, I would have expected her to be able to share more comprehensive data from the regulators showing what children are being exposed to and where. Will she address that head on and write to us with more detail if she needs to? In the meantime, my greatest concern remains promotions in store and on social media.

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

The hon. Lady says that Labour is determined to crack down; well, here is her opportunity. She is not cracking down if she does not deal with this issue. She says there are clear restrictions on how these products can be advertised or marketed to children, but children can see football strips and sports stadiums. I do not know about anybody else’s children, but mine watch football on the television, and they can see what is advertised on football strips. I would like her to take that thought away with her.

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

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but as I said my greatest concern remains promotions in store and on social media, because that is where lots of young people consume this information. My view is that we need to get on with cracking down on the companies that deliberately sell these products to children in the first place.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I fully support what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire says about sports marketing and vape companies. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham for the work that she has been doing in this policy area, and I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East just suggested.

With this Bill, we have perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to send a clear message to the tobacco companies. More importantly, we can say to young people, our children and parents generally, “Do not take up vaping.” Vaping has always been meant to be about stopping smoking, but sadly it has become a stand-alone product. I was shocked when I walked through my neighbourhood of Pimlico last week and saw that we now have a huge stand-alone vape shop that sells only vapes.

The new clause seeks to do the right thing, but it does not go far enough, so I ask the Minister whether we can step back, before Report, to understand what the Government can do to send a clear message about all advertising, marketing and sponsorship across the whole nation, whether it is TV or radio advertising or any form of sports sponsorship. We have to treat vapes as we treat tobacco.

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

I thank all hon. Members for this discussion. I have to say that I agree with them. It is extraordinary that vapes are advertised and promoted in places that are seen by children. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire for her determination on this matter. She and I were discussing earlier the fact that we both know teenagers who tell us that in many cases it is not one in five vaping but more like four in five. I think that will resonate with a number of hon. Members, so we have to do everything we can.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who I believe is the only paediatrician in the House. She has done so much to seek to improve all health issues for children, but she is particularly passionate about this area. She is away on a trip with the Health and Social Care Committee, quite rightly, but I regret that she cannot be here to debate this issue. I know that she would have strong views; I have heard her speak powerfully about the need to clamp down on advertising and sponsorship.

I agree with those who say that new clause 9 looks at sponsorship only. New clauses 15, 19, 20 and 21, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, look at the whole issue of tobacco and vape advertising, as well as sponsorship. New clause 9 would make it an offence to knowingly enter into a sponsorship agreement that promotes vaping substances containing nicotine in the course of a business.

I am sympathetic to the intent of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire. However, she will appreciate that the advertising and promotion of nicotine vapes is already heavily restricted by existing regulations, including a ban on advertising on television and radio, and through the internet or commercial email. We know that vaping products can still be promoted in some places, such as billboards or posters, but that marketing activity must adhere to strict codes set out by the Advertising Standards Authority. For example, it must be socially responsible and not target, feature or appeal to children—cue a round of laughter. I have written recently to the ASA to ensure that it is enforcing the existing regulations, and I have sent a copy of the reply to all Committee members.

However, I am mindful of the Committee’s clear desire for the rules on advertising and sponsorship to be equally strong for both tobacco and vapes. Building on the stringent restrictions already in place, I commit right now to explore formal steps we can take to further restrict vape advertising and sponsorship, in line with the spirit of new clause 9 and the others I just mentioned. I will revert with further updates on proposals on Report and Third Reading in the Chamber. With that, I hope that the hon. Lady does not wish to push her new clause to a vote.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 3:00, 14 May 2024

I am grateful to the Minister for what she said. I am not unsympathetic to how she has set out her logic, but I would be more comfortable if there was something more than a commitment to explore formal steps to impose further restrictions. What does that mean? I do not know whether the Minister is able to tell me or whether it is in order for me to ask. I want it banned. [Hon. Members: “We all do.”] I want it banned in the field of sports, and I am open to it being banned in all the other fields that have been mentioned. Committing to explore formal steps to further restrict it seems slightly less than certain to me. Is the Minister able to give me a little more certainty? I would be happy to withdraw the new clause if I were certain that it was going to be contained in a Government amendment, for instance. I just want to make sure that the issue is dealt with once and for all.

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

I would like to give the hon. Lady the reassurance that I will be coming forward with proposals from the Government to address the issues that have been raised.

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

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.