Vaping — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 1st November 2017.

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Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford 9:30 am, 1st November 2017

I am not aware of that report, but I think there is an inherent problem with pregnant women today having to wait three years to make that decision. My gut feeling is that the best approach would of course be for pregnant women not to smoke anything at all—not to smoke any tobacco products, and not to vape. I am not qualified to say whether it is beneficial for pregnant women to vape instead of smoking if they are unable to give up tobacco, so I would not want to comment on the report the hon. Gentleman mentions, but it throws up interesting questions. That is why I believe that this whole debate should be based on facts and evidence, rather than on an instinctive dislike of tobacco products that leads to lumping vaping in with them.

The British Lung Foundation has also commented on vaping:

“Given half of long-term smokers die as a result of their habit, using vaping to help someone quit smoking could literally save their life.”

The British Lung Foundation is also clear that vaping should not be seen as a permanent alternative to smoking or promoted to non-smokers, but nor should it be banned in public in the way that smoking is.

Public Health England famously—or famously in the vaping world—said clearly that it believes vaping to be 95% safer than smoking tobacco. The Royal College of Physicians and Action on Smoking and Health have chipped in with similar comments, so there is plenty of evidence that such products have potential, but they have to be judged on their own merits and should not be in the shadow of tobacco products. That is why, in my view, the EU tobacco products directive was wrong to incorporate vaping, which should have been dealt with separately.

That ludicrous approach is illustrated in the regulations that companies have to follow. If someone buys a vaping machine, the machine has to have a warning on it that it contains nicotine. The one I have here, which was sent out by a company called Totally Wicked, says,

“This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance”.

They all have to comply with that requirement. The silly thing is, of course, that the machine does not contain nicotine—but it says it does, because it has to as a consequence of the EU directive. It contains nicotine only when e-liquid is added to the product; it is not included in the product. Companies have to put a caveat at the bottom of the product to say that the statement is not true, so that they do not get prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. That is one illustration of the ludicrous nature of an approach that lumps vaping products in with tobacco products, and that expects vaping organisations to act in exactly the same way as those involving tobacco.

The EU directive also imposes a requirement to sell e-liquid only in small quantities with a maximum of 20 mg of nicotine, which I understand some heavy smokers find insufficient. I do not want to turn this into a Brexit debate—we have enough of those taking place in the House of Commons at the moment; there are plenty on today and tomorrow, if anybody is interested—but we have to recognise that there is an opportunity after Brexit to depart from some regulations, where appropriate. I ask the Minister to put March 2019 in his diary, so that he can consider which of the regulations can be looked at again, are unnecessary or can be altered.

The rules on advertising are also inconsistent. An advert on a bus is fine, but an advert in a magazine or newspaper is not. The trouble is that it sends out a mixed message, which helps neither the public nor the industry and adds to the problem whereby increasing members of the public believe that vaping is potentially more harmful than smoking tobacco. That ultimately stops the benefits that do seem to exist, according to people far more qualified in the medical field than me.

Most people agree that there is a necessity for more evidence, and I am pleased that the Select Committee on Science and Technology is about to carry out an inquiry on vaping, which aims to collate the available information and give recommendations. I hope that it will look at studies on the health implications and give its view on which studies are the most and least credible. The public should not have to rely purely on whichever report is given the greatest prominence in the press. The inquiry will be important, but what is ultimately needed is more fully independent assessments of the health considerations around vaping.

The Government have launched a tobacco control plan, which I am sure the Minister will mention. I welcome the aim in that plan to reduce the number of people smoking in the UK, and it is to be welcomed that the usefulness of vaping is recognised in the plan.

To conclude, although vaping is not risk-free, it has been found to be a useful tool for millions of people who want to stop smoking. It should therefore be given the recognition it deserves. It has huge potential to save lives. I therefore ask the Minister to meet the vaping industry as soon as his diary allows, to discuss how vaping can be best utilised.