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

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 3:48 pm on 15 May 2024.

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

(Translated)

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.