New Clause 11 - Testing of samples of nicotine-containing e-cigarette products

Part of Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 14 May 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 3:00, 14 May 2024

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing these issues before the Committee. These new clauses seek to give more powers to the MHRA to introduce a testing regime for vaping and nicotine products, and to ensure that the laboratories conducting the testing are independent of the tobacco industry. They also aim to give the MHRA powers to remove notifications and thus prohibit the sale of products if they are found to be non-compliant.

New clause 13 would require the Secretary of State to produce and lay before Parliament a report to consider whether the MHRA should be given new powers to request and test samples, and to remove vaping and nicotine products from the list of notified products. The report would also have to examine the case for a requirement for local trading standards authorities to notify the MHRA of any instances where vaping or nicotine products are being sold that have not been notified or are non-compliant.

I am very sympathetic to the aims of these new clauses, but the current notification system is not an enforcement tool and should not be viewed as such. It is the responsibility of trading standards to ensure compliance of vaping products and to remove non-compliant—that is, illicit —vapes from the market and stop their sale. It is also the responsibility of trading standards to test a product if they believe that it contains illegal substances or too much nicotine. The MHRA supports this work by providing intelligence from the notification system.

New clause 11 would facilitate the previous new clause by giving powers to the Secretary of State to approve, as part of the testing regime, certain laboratories that are not in any way funded or controlled either by the vaping industry or the tobacco industry.

The Secretary of State can already commission independent laboratories to undertake the testing of vapes, in order to check and confirm that they meet our regulatory standards as set out in the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016. We can also produce relevant guidance to support this work, so the new clause really is not needed. Trading standards, supported by the MHRA, work with local scientific services that are independent of the tobacco and vaping industry in order to test vapes and to take action where non-compliance is found. These testing facilities support our enforcement programmes.

In fact, last year the Prime Minister visited an independent lab in Kent that checks for specific ingredients and harmful substances. The Prime Minister, who was accompanied by the chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, described the laboratory as “a centre of excellence” and said that it was at the frontline of testing, providing vital information in the campaign to tackle illegal vaping.

In summary, although I completely understand and support the aims of each of these new clauses to ensure that products are rigorously tested, adhere to our regulations and do not pose additional risk or harm, we can already test products, and indeed do, using quality-assured laboratories for this work. In addition, there are tough penalties in place for those who break our rules, including unlimited fines and prison sentences. As hon. Members know, we have also provided new funding and support to help local trading standards to enhance their enforcement capacity and to test products. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady not to press her new clauses to a vote.