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

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 3:53 pm on 15 May 2024.

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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.