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

– in the Senedd at 3:31 pm on 15 May 2024.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 3:31, 15 May 2024


The next item will be a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21 on the control of tobacco and nicotine products, and I call on Mabon ap Gwynfor to move the motion.


Motion NDM8571 Mabon ap Gwynfor, John Griffiths, Altaf Hussain

Supported by Carolyn Thomas, Delyth Jewell, Heledd Fychan, Jack Sargeant, Julie Morgan, Llyr Gruffydd, Mark Isherwood, Peredur Owen Griffiths, Rhys ab Owen, Sioned Williams, Vikki Howells

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes that:

a) smoking kills 5,600 people a year in Wales and places a huge burden on the Welsh NHS of more than £300 million each year;

b) smoking is the leading cause of preventable ill health and premature death in Wales, causing 3,100 cases of cancer each year;

c) Wales is experiencing a marked increase in the reports of young people vaping, coupled with a sharp increase in the number of retailers selling nicotine products;

d) an increase in nicotine dependency among younger people will demand additional nicotine cessation support in Wales; and

e) the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

2. Calls on the Welsh Government to:

a) commit to the full implementation of chapters 2, 3 and 4 of the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 which would enable the:

i) establishment of a national register of retailers of tobacco and nicotine products;

ii) adding of offences which contribute to a restricted premises order in Wales, enabling enforcement officers to prohibit a retailer from selling tobacco or nicotine products for up to a year; and

iii) prohibition of the handing over of tobacco and nicotine products to a person under the age of 18;

b) ensure that the Tobacco Control Strategic Board makes the implementation of a tobacco and nicotine retail register a priority action in the second phase of the tobacco control action plan for Wales 2024-2026;

c) commit to a fully-funded communications campaign to support the implementation and subsequent regulatory and legislative changes; and

d) establish a working group to;

i) oversee the timely implementation of the retail register;

ii) explore how the retail register could provide a pathway to a licensing scheme and/or tools for additional enforcement; and

iii) present the data gathered from the register to help target smoking cessation and public protection efforts.


Motion moved.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 3:31, 15 May 2024

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Since 2017, more than 20,000 children in Wales have smoked their first cigarette. By now, 15,000 of those children will be well on their way to becoming long-term smokers. And in a future none of them can yet see, 10,000 of these children will eventually die from their deadly addiction. 

As shocking as they are, these numbers represent just a fraction of the young Welsh lives affected by the cruel consequences of smoking. I reference 2017, because, on the 16 May of that year, the Senedd passed legislation that could have, and would have, reduced some of this harm and saved some of these lives. Heralded by the Minister at the time as a landmark day for public health in Wales, almost seven years to the day on and the law to introduce a tobacco and nicotine register has never been implemented. We have wasted time at a huge cost to children’s health. We must now put that right.

Smoking is an addiction of childhood. The majority of people who smoke in Wales had their first cigarette when they were children or teenagers. When surveyed by ASH Cymru, 71 per cent of these smokers say they wish they’d never started in the first place, and, although more than half want to quit, many are trapped by their childhood addiction.

Smoking remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death—5,600 people die from smoking every single year. Cigarettes are the only consumer product, which, when used as directed by the manufacturer, will kill two in three long-term users. If tobacco was brought to the market today, it would never be approved for sale.

As well as cancer, heart disease and lung disease, smoking is also a major contributing factor in still birth, stroke and dementia. Smoking continues to drive devastating discrepancies in health outcomes. The tobacco industry tend to airbrush over the fact that they’ve made people addicted to their uniquely dangerous products, and, sadly, they have had the most success in the areas of Wales that are most disadvantaged.

New data published this week by ASH Cymru shows that, while 9 per cent of homeowners smoke, when we look at those who live in social housing, that figure rises to 30 per cent. But we have a huge opportunity within our grasp to do something about all of this—to close existing loopholes, reduce health harms, save lives and protect our future generations. We can use existing legislation to implement a tobacco and nicotine retail register here in Wales. A register would require all businesses and retailers who sell either tobacco products or nicotine products in Wales who sell either tobacco products or nicotine products in Wales to sign up, and it would be an offence to sell tobacco or nicotine products from premises, including mobile units and pop-up shops, if those businesses were not on the national register.


The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

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.

Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour 3:40, 15 May 2024

I very much support what we've heard from Mabon ap Gwynfor, which I think makes a very clear and strong case for that retail register. I know from my own constituency—I'm sure this applies to other Members—just how prevalent the problems caused by tobacco and vaping are at the current time. Vaping, for example, is increasingly a problem even in primary schools, where headteachers are very concerned about the health and well-being and keeping good order in the school aspects of vaping and the problems that vaping brings to those concerns. And parents, of course, are very concerned as well. And, as I say, that's at a primary school level, let alone what's happening in our secondary schools. 

As we've heard from Mabon, tobacco use is still such a huge problem to our health and well-being in Wales, isn't it? And, again, we're all very familiar with the statistics, and just what a cause of preventable death and injury smoking is, the fact that it affects our more deprived communities to a greater extent and it's a very strong driver of health inequalities and that gap in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between our most and least deprived communities. So, there's an awful lot to be done on tobacco still.

Illegal tobacco is a very big problem, and those illegal operators are very much concerned with selling illegal vapes, as well as illegal tobacco. And very often, it goes together as a package, as it were. So, there's a great deal for trading standards to do in terms of enforcement. And recently, in the cross-party group on smoking, we brought some of the key players together—the deputy future generations commissioner, academics, trading standards, ASH Cymru, of course, the health sector—and looked at some of these problems, and we reflected on some of the statistics that Mabon has already rehearsed in terms of the survey and the key statistics that ASH Cymru put before us.

It is a very, very clear case, and it does have very strong public support. And that does give a very fair wind, I think, in terms of what Welsh Government might do with key partners to establish that retail register and have that licensing scheme. And that cross-party group, I think, with all the key partners involved, was very clear in terms of the need for that register, that licensing scheme, and the benefits that it would bring.

As I said in beginning my remarks, Dirprwy Lywydd, I do think that, at the beginning of this important debate, Mabon has very clearly outlined a very strong case for this action—this retail register and this licensing scheme. Much of what I was going to say Mabon has already said. And I would just like very much to support this proposal, these proposals, and hope that Welsh Government—which I'm pretty confident it does—sees the sense of having this approach and will do all it can to bring about that register, that licensing scheme.

Photo of Altaf Hussain Altaf Hussain Conservative 3:43, 15 May 2024

I was delighted to be asked to co-sponsor this motion today. Sadly, smoking remains one of the biggest killers in Wales. Despite years of public health interventions, we are still seeing thousands of people each year losing their lives needlessly, which is why I support a tobacco and nicotine register in order to target our stop-smoking initiatives in Wales and link it with the UK Government's tobacco and vapes Bill. We have to stop the deaths, and that means stopping people from getting addicted to nicotine in the first place. I believe a retail register would help aid the fight against young people getting hooked.

Colleagues will no doubt address the issues with cigarettes, as Mabon has done, and John has also said about it. So, I want to focus my contribution on shisha smoking. More and more young people are getting hooked on hookah. Since the ban on smoking in public places, there has been a 210 per cent increase in shisha bars and cafes. Shisha, also known as hookah, narghile, water pipe, hubble bubble or jajeer in Kashmir, is a method of smoking tobacco invented in the sixteenth century by a physician named Hakim—'hakim' means physician, homeopath—Abdul Fateh Gilani. He was a physician in the Mughal durbar, or you can say 'court'. The purpose of the device was to pass smoke through water in an attempt to purify the smoke, a myth that has since been disproven by medical science, but sadly one that persists to this day.

Shisha utilises specially prepared tobacco that is heated to produce smoke with bubbles through a bowl of water and into a long hose-like pipe to be breathed in. The tobacco can come in different flavours, and sometimes it's mixed with molasses or sugar, often making the smoke smell sweet. It is usually heated by burning wood, coal or charcoal. Shisha smoking is popular in south-east Asia, the middle east and north African communities, especially among young people. It is becoming increasingly popular here in the United Kingdom. A shisha session typically lasts for about 45 minutes. Research conducted by the New South Wales Government suggested that each session is the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes. Shisha smoke is toxic, it contains chemicals including carbon monoxide and tar, which are bad for health—your health, my health and those around us—yet many young people still think it is safe.

In the short term, shisha can increase your heart rate and your blood pressure, reduce your lung capacity, impact your physical fitness, and has been known to cause carbon monoxide poisoning. In the long term, shisha smoking can cause head, neck, lung and other cancers, heart diseases, lung diseases, and lead to early ageing. Shisha smoking, far from being a safe alternative, is as dangerous if not more so than cigarettes. Its flavour and ceremony appeals to young people and it gets them hooked on nicotine incredibly fast. Ensuring that shisha cafes and bars need a tobacco licence can help regulate the growing industry and prevent under-age users. Taken alongside the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, we can ensure future generations will be free of smoking-related harms and death. I urge Members to support our motion. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 3:48, 15 May 2024


Thank you, Mabon, for bringing this important debate before us today. It is a problem, and we have to recognise it as a major problem. As Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson, I often have teachers, but also pupils, approaching me telling me how concerned they are specifically about vaping, but also smoking among young people is still a problem. 

I was brought up in the 1980s, I'm now 43, and the norm at that time was that almost every adult around me smoked. You could smoke anywhere, and that was the norm. But, there was an excellent campaign in our primary schools, and secondary schools, which did highlight those dangers. Because, by that point, they were well known. They saw the impact on previous generations, a number of people who had been smoking from a very young age. And I have to say, I found these campaigns very effective. I was one of those who would go home and preach to the adults around me about the dangers of smoking. Certainly, those campaigns had an influence on me. 

We've seen huge changes too in terms of all the changes there have been in not being allowed to smoke in cars with children, not being allowed to smoke in parks and school playgrounds and so on, and also that we ensure that when we go out—. Who remembers being in a pub late at night and your clothes stinking the next day, and your hair and everything else smelling too? There have been major changes made, but I think, by seeing those changes, it is easy to rest on our laurels. And what we have seen is that companies, who can financially benefit from this, will always find a way to take advantage. And what we are seeing now is this targeting of young people specifically. I would like to say, and I think it's important to emphasise this point, that there is support for vaping for those trying to quit smoking. There is an important role for vapes in our society, but they must be regulated. And I think a national register is crucial. 

If we look at the Wales youth vaping survey from ASH Cymru, those statistics are frightening, in that 24 per cent of all children between years 7 and 11 have tried vaping, 7 per cent vape regularly, and 37 per cent of the 7 per cent also smoke. Ninety two per cent of those who are using vapes use those that contain nicotine, and 45 per cent can't get through the school day without vaping. Well, this creates huge problems in our schools. It means that pupils can't get through a lesson, they have to leave the classroom to vape, and schools then don't know how to deal with that situation, often choosing to lock toilets to try to deal with this, which isn't fair when we think about those learners who need to access those toilets. It does have a major impact on all levels. 

If we also look at the statistics from ASH Cymru, 55 per cent of all pupils who have vaped have used vape products that are likely to be illegal vapes. Well, this is also extremely worrying. We know, from trading standards statistics, that some illegal vapes correspond to smoking 20 cigarettes in one session. And, as has already been mentioned, they do target children. There is no doubt about that. You see the shops, and they are very attractive to children—very colourful. We know that vapes themselves are so attractive, aren't they? Why else would you produce vapes that look like a Prime bottle, for example, or have incredible flavours, or bright colours, if you're not actively targeting children? A national register would respond to some of those challenges. 

But we must also look at the online element, and that many children and young people do buy these vapes online. Primary school pupils were entirely honest with me, telling me that Tiktok Shop is the best way to access them. Many children can buy these things online themselves with debit cards. We must get these messages across. So, the register is one important element, but we must also improve resources within our schools to get the message out there about the dangers of these vapes, and how we stop children and young people from being exploited. There is a place for vapes to help those quitting smoking, but no young person should be vaping in our schools. 

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 3:53, 15 May 2024

I'm grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate this afternoon. I've been quite excited to speak on it, actually, because I did a study into smoking for my foundation degree back in 2018, and gave a presentation to Bangor University. Do you know that one of the first places that brought in an indoor smoking ban was the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, back in the 1800s, I think? They banned it in committee rooms, initially. It was really groundbreaking at the time. And, I think, it was up until 2006—. It was as late at 2006, when they brought in a ban for cigarette advertising in Formula 1, and it ran all the way up to only, gosh, less than 20 years ago. I remember the cigarette brands on the back of Schumacher's car, and Mika Häkkinen and Damon Hill and all of them. So, it shows how far we've come in a relatively short space of time, really.

There has been a real resurgence in the attention being paid to smoking and nicotine cessation in recent years, and I think perhaps brought about by the explosion in young people using vapes and e-cigarette devices. And I absolutely share these concerns regarding under-18s using disposable vapes and e-cigarettes, and the action taken by the UK Government with the smoking and vaping ban has been quite extensive. The debate on nicotine and tobacco, however, does seem to be increasingly coercive, and is indicative of some of the worst rhetoric of nanny statism. And I think there are better ways that we can handle public health issues than we currently are. We know that the harms of smoking are very well understood at this point. Smoking is devastating for one’s health. It also places a huge burden on the NHS. But I sometimes get the impression that we are simply flogging a dead horse, continuing to fight a battle that we have already won, and that there are more important public health battles to fight. I’m not sure if this is due to the influence of the anti-smoking lobby, or an attempt to demonstrate that we are on the right side of history.

Anti-smoking rules in the UK are the second strictest in Europe. Data from 2022 shows that only 14 per cent of adults in Wales smoke, and this number is decreasing. Data from 2021 shows that 12 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds have tried a cigarette at least once, and the vast majority of these are not regular users of tobacco. This is also down from 50 per cent in 1996. We have done more than other countries in the world to reduce smoking, and often at great cost to individual liberty and personal choice, which instinctively makes me feel very uneasy.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

Thank you very much. This argument about personal liberty and freedom is rehearsed quite often in this debate. Would you see that there is an inherent contradiction in the idea of giving someone freedom to become addicted? That's an oxymoron. It contradicts itself. As well as that—if I may, briefly, Dirprwy Lywydd—when you said that the risks of smoking are well known, and so it is up to people, presumably, to make that choice, the logical extension of that argument would be the same for heroin, wouldn't it? So, would you want to legalise heroin as well? 

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative

Delyth, I think that's not a fair comparison to be honest. Heroin is not a fair comparison at all. Heroin wrecks people's lives, and the addiction level between tobacco and heroin—that is not a fair comparison at all, and I don't accept that at all.

I believe that this issue does not always require ever-increasing legislation, which often isn’t intended to garner results, but to show that our hearts are in the right place. We instead need to better enforce the laws already on our statute books. It’s already a crime to sell products containing nicotine to people under the age of 18, but adequate resources are not lent by the state to ensure that these laws and regulations are abided by.

We have seen that it is incredibly easy for young people to buy vape and e-cigarette products on the high street, and we need to do more than legislate to get these devices out of the hands of children. I understand how a national register for retailers, which Mabon is advocating, could be advantageous for that, and I am broadly supportive. Despite laying out my unease with some of the more coercive, paternalistic actions taken by the state, I care about getting nicotine products out of the hands of children, I care about reducing rates of alcoholism and obesity, and I care about removing ultra-processed foods from children’s diets, which Jenny Rathbone has raised many times before.

The Welsh NHS has published itself that our diet and being overweight or obese have far more impact than tobacco use. As rates of smoking are falling, the number of overweight and, particularly, obese people is increasing. We should shift our attention to these more pressing issues, as our health will continue to deteriorate unless we treat other issues with the same concern. Thank you.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:58, 15 May 2024


I call on the Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, Jayne Bryant.

Photo of Jayne Bryant Jayne Bryant Labour

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. I'd like to thank Mabon ap Gwynfor, John Griffiths and Altaf Hussain for tabling this Member debate today, and for the points made about tobacco and nicotine. Members will recall the statement that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care made just over two weeks ago, in which she set out the measures in the UK Tobacco and Vapes Bill that will apply to Wales.

Before I turn to the Bill, I want to reiterate some of the startling facts about smoking. Mabon raised that in his opening statement, and I think it's always important to remember those stark facts. They should always stick with us. Smoking remains the leading cause of avoidable harm and death in Wales. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and, uniquely, it harms not just the smoker, but the people around them. It has a devastating effect on our health, whatever our age, and I'm pleased that Altaf was able to mention shisha in his contribution.

The Bill continues to make its way through the UK Parliament, and the Chief Medical Officer for Wales gave evidence during the Committee Stage about the importance of the proposals for Wales. It provides a unique opportunity to take decisive action to free a generation from nicotine and tobacco addiction. The Bill also includes provisions to strengthen the enforcement system by introducing on-the-spot fines for under-age sales of tobacco and vaping products in England and Wales, which will enable trading standards officers to take swifter action when needed.

I'm clear that the measures in the Bill are not the only actions we need to take in our continued battle to protect public health. As discussed today, there are provisions in the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 that have come into force. These were hard won and provide us with important tools to use. But it's important to recognise that we have made progress in bringing other provisions in this wide-ranging Act into force, such as protecting young people from inappropriate cosmetic piercings, pharmaceutical needs assessments and the provision of local toilet strategies. As part of our efforts to denormalise smoking, we made school grounds, playgrounds and hospital grounds smoke free in 2021, and we're currently developing regulations to reduce health inequality in Wales by embedding the use of health impact assessments.

There are other areas of the Act where powers are available to strengthen our approach to tobacco and vapes, particularly the introduction of a retail register, that have yet to come into force. As we know, this industry moves rapidly. We have kept this policy under review and we regularly discuss with stakeholders what they require. We have provided funding to Trading Standards Wales to undertake enforcement action on illegal vapes, trained officers and raised awareness about the impact illegal products have on our communities. But the introduction of the UK Tobacco and Vapes Bill changes the landscape that we are working in.

We'll also need to consider—[Interruption.] Yes.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 4:02, 15 May 2024

Thank you. I'm curious to know the answer to the question—because I was up in the office before thinking to myself—if the matters that Mabon's proposing to the Senedd do get agreed, then with the UK Government's legislation, does that then create a duplicate system in Wales, and we'll see a difference in smoking legislation and a disparity across UK nations? Because if we're looking at significant public health legislation, then surely we've got to adopt pretty much a universal approach to stop any wriggle room, if you like, within those systems, so that whatever is agreed can be delivered on a universal basis, where everybody knows where they stand and the information's quite universal and easy to understand.

Photo of Jayne Bryant Jayne Bryant Labour 4:03, 15 May 2024

Thank you, Gareth. As a Government, we're clear that we must consider all our options to support our ambition to be a smoke-free Wales, and this includes whether we look to develop a licensing system, or if we move ahead with the implementation of the retail register. As you know, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill is currently progressing through the UK Parliament and is expected to change the landscape considerably. It's also important to recognise the difference in views at the moment, and what will be needed in future. This is something that we are looking at.

We will need to consider any amendments to the Bill, one of which proposed the introduction of that licensing scheme, and reflect on the recommendations in the independent Khan review to support a smoke-free society. If the Bill passes, whether amended or not, it will give us even more tools to support our ambition to make Wales smoke free. Because of this changing legislative landscape, we have decided to pause implementation of the outstanding areas of the public health Act in relation to tobacco. However, we will undertake a full review of our legislative tools in our next tobacco control delivery plan, which is currently in development. The retail register may well be an effective enforcement tool, and my officials are currently discussing and learning from the approaches taken elsewhere, including Scotland, where a retail register is in place.

In relation to the other part of the motion on a communications campaign, I do agree that it's a crucial part of our approach and an area my officials continue to work with other UK nations on. We want consumers and retailers in Wales to be aware of any changes to the law in relation to tobacco and vapes, and as the Cabinet Secretary said last month, we will continue to update Members about our work to control the sale and use of tobacco and vapes, which is so important for the protection of young people and public health. Diolch yn fawr. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:05, 15 May 2024


I call on Mabon ap Gwynfor to reply to the debate.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru


Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd, and thank you very much to everyone who has participated in this discussion. It has been very interesting, and on the whole the Senedd seems to be supportive. I look forward to seeing the Senedd and the Siambr supporting the motion.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru

I'll start with Gareth's point. He put forward the libertarian arguments about smoking. First of all, during your contribution you said that you wanted to see, for instance, ultra-processed foods being controlled. That doesn't tally with your libertarian arguments when it comes to smoking. If you want people to have that access to smoking of their own free will, then they should be able to use that free will to consume ultra-processed food. 

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 4:06, 15 May 2024

There is clearly a difference between smoking and ultra-processed food. The difference is that cigarettes and smoking products have been significantly taxed with price rises over an incremental period, over many, many years, but ultra-processed food is very, very cheap. I'm not calling for price rises, but just better quality food that's more accessible to people, so that anybody, no matter what their background, can access good quality food, no matter what their budget.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru

So maybe we should aim to get better quality cigarettes, or better quality vapes. The argument doesn't hold, I'm afraid. You've also said that the battle is already won, but say that to the 5,600 people who die in Wales every year as a consequence of smoking. Say that to their families—tens of thousands of people who are suffering from bereavement because of smoking.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 4:07, 15 May 2024

Thanks, Mabon. We've got to keep remembering that smoking is legal. It's not illegal, and like I said in my remarks, it's an informed choice, because if you're over a certain age, you've learned from quite a young age in school that smoking's pretty bad for your health. Everybody accepts that. I get that. I worked in the NHS for 11 years. I fully understand the health implications of smoking. So, it's an informed choice, because they have been aware of the health implications from quite a young age at this point in time.

Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 4:08, 15 May 2024

Thanks, Gareth. I'm afraid it seems to be a confused argument, but nevertheless, I am concerned that you've misunderstood the proposal in any case, the motion. The motion isn't to do with impacting on people's right to smoke. It's to do with bringing in a retail register so that we can control who sells tobacco and nicotine products. People will still be able to buy those products. So, hopefully that will convince you that the motion is the right way to go, because it doesn't impact on your libertarian concerns.

As I said, smoking kills 5,600 people in Wales every year. John Griffiths and Altaf Hussain made a point of explaining how smoking still impacts on people's lives, and they made that very strongly. We also know that it costs in excess of £300 million to the NHS every year. And smoking accounts for 5 per cent of all hospital admissions. That's the impact of smoking, and that's what this motion aims to try to decrease and help. 

Also, thanks to John Griffiths, who referred to the work of the cross-party group. The cross-party group has been doing some excellent work, and I thank the cross-party group. You mentioned in your contribution, John, as did Heledd, schools, and the impact on schools, and the fact that a lot of young children are now starting to vape—vape especially, which leads them on to smoking cigarettes. Coincidentally, I had two schools from my constituency here yesterday, Treferthyr and Llanystumdwy. I spoke with them about the proposed motion, and they were 100 per cent in agreement on needing a retail register. They said that they knew children and their siblings who were vaping, and they saw the benefit that this motion might bring. 

The Minister was right in thanking Altaf for referencing shisha. I've seen people smoke shisha and think that because it goes through water, it makes it better somehow, without realising the impact on their health. And as you say, the impact of one shisha session is the equivalent of dozens of cigarettes. This proposal would help license those cafes and bars as well, so thank you, Altaf, for your support. 

Minister, thank you for the response. Overall, I think there's general support for the principle. The Cabinet Secretary did mention about three weeks ago that, as a principle, she very much would be willing to look at whether this is something they could look at as a Government. That seems to have been diluted since then, because in your response, Minister, you did say that things have changed now—the landscape, I think you said, has changed because of the proposed new Bill.

I know you mentioned that the Bill would allow for on-the-spot fines, which is good, but having a retail register would be even better. You wouldn't necessarily need those on-the-spot fines. You wouldn't need to chase people down the street. You wouldn't need to look after people. You'd know where the products were being sold. You'd know which people were licensed to sell these products. 

And isn't it ironic that we have a system in place that licenses the sale of alcohol, amongst other things, but not tobacco and nicotine, which are just as dangerous if not more so in some cases? I'm also concerned that you said that you've funded Trading Standards Wales for enforcement. Again, you wouldn't need to fund those elements if you had a retail register, because trading standards could monitor exactly who sells tobacco and nicotine products.  

You also then went on to say that you're pausing implementation because of the new Bill. I'm afraid I don't buy that, because we've had the ability to introduce a retail register since 2017, long before Westminster's proposed vape Bill. So, there's still a strong argument here to get the Government to introduce a retail register. I think the argument has been well put by everybody here this evening, so I'd urge every Member to support the motion tonight. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:12, 15 May 2024


The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is objection. Therefore, I'll defer voting under this item until voting time. 


Voting deferred until voting time.