5. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv): Control of tobacco and nicotine products

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 3:35 pm on 15 May 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 3:35, 15 May 2024

The legislative mechanism for a tobacco and nicotine retail register is already contained in the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017. If implemented, it would benefit everyone, from retailers to consumers and enforcement teams. Most importantly, it would reduce health harms and save lives. It could offer support, advice and training to the vast majority of retailers, who would only ever sell tax-paid products to adults. And rather than subcontracting this responsibility to future generations, the implementation of the retail register would show that this Senedd used its powers, did what it could, when it could, and acted on its commitment to a smoke-free Wales by 2030.

Over the years, regulation and laws on cigarette promotion and price have played a huge part in tobacco control. But, in today's market, with the explosion in unregistered retail outlets and a surge in youth vaping, a fresh approach is needed, and we must meet the scale of this growing challenge. Until now, tackling the availability of cigarettes and vapes in our communities has been very much a poor relation. A retail register for Wales will help address that gap. At the moment, we don't know for sure if the most disadvantaged areas of Wales have the highest density of tobacco retailers and vape shops. We can guess, because of what we see in our communities, but we lack true evidence.

Local availability of cigarettes matters enormously to health. Research by Dr Jamie Pearce of the University of Edinburgh shows that adolescents in areas with a high density of tobacco retailers are more likely to have ever smoked. Adults in high-density areas are more likely to be current smokers and less likely to quit, and pregnant women in high-density areas more likely to smoke in their first pregnancy and less likely to quit. As part of his research, Dr Pearce also used GPS to track 700 volunteers aged 10 and 11 for a week. It showed that children from income-deprived areas were seven times more likely to be exposed to tobacco retailing than those from affluent areas.

Knowing exactly where these products are being sold, and by whom, is also important for public health teams, to make sure that precious resources are being used in areas of greatest need. A retail register would give us new and previously unavailable data for where the most nicotine is being sold, allowing smoking cessation efforts to be targeted in those communities. And for every Member who has been approached by a constituent concerned about an explosion in vape shops in their area, imagine how a retail register, had it been implemented in 2017, would have helped us monitor, manage and mitigate what has happened on every high street in Wales.

I wanted to reassure you on one other important point too. When surveyed by ASH Cymru, 86 per cent of people questioned said they're already on board with a retail scheme for tobacco products, and supported it. This includes 65 per cent of current smokers in Wales and 74 per cent of current vapers. Not only that; support for tobacco control more widely is growing in Wales. If I can take you back to 2015, when ASH Cymru conducted its annual YouGov survey, almost four in 10 people thought that the Welsh Government wasn't doing enough. Fast forward to 2024, and, when they asked that exact same question again, the proportion of people in Wales saying that the Government isn't doing enough had increased to 52 per cent.

The retail register is also supported in the recently published recommendations of Public Health Wales's incident response group report on youth vaping, by leading health charities, including ASH Cymru, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation Cymru, and Asthma and Lung UK Cymru, and also by trading standards and medical professionals. It also has cross-party support here in the Senedd. So, we urge Welsh Government to implement the existing legislation for the tobacco and nicotine retail register without further delay, and use the enormous opportunity that we have within our grasp to protect our most vulnerable.