It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank Gareth Johnson for securing this debate on nicotine vapour products. I fully agree with him about their potential to save thousands of lives. We should always bear that in mind. I am grateful that he clarified the point about the public perception of the safety of vaping versus traditional cigarettes. We need to get that important message out there, especially given that some of the briefings we have seen show that people think it is as dangerous. Clearly, it is not.
I also agree that we need a fact-based approach, and that a lot more research needs to be done. I am grateful to Sandy Martin for mentioning some of the studies, and I look forward to seeing their results. The hon. Member for Dartford mentioned one of the most interesting dilemmas, which relates to the rules on advertising and the anomalies. How do we accurately advertise the benefits of this product to the people who would benefit from it—the 7 million smokers who are not vaping—without making it attractive and sexy to people who do not smoke at all? Finding that balance will be challenging, and I do not envy anyone who has to come up with the regulations that deal with that problem.
The positive case in favour of vaping has been well made today. Most of the harm caused by cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products comes not from the nicotine but from the smoke, which contains a huge number of carcinogens. I am very grateful to the Royal College of Physicians for its work in estimating tha the hazard from long-term vapour inhalation is about 5% that of the harm of smoking. We need to get the message out to smokers that vaping is much safer. More than one quarter of all cancer deaths can be attributed directly to smoking. Smoking is associated with 10,000 deaths and about 128,000 hospital admissions each year in Scotland alone. It costs the Scottish NHS more than £300 million to treat smoking-related illnesses. It does not take a genius to work out that it is in the interest of our public purse to encourage people on to smoking cessation products.
A statistic that I have seen—I have forgotten which briefing it was in; it may have been by the Independent British Vape Trade Association, but I apologise if I have misattributed it—states that for each person we can persuade to stop smoking, we will save about £74,000 in public health benefits. That would have a huge impact, so we need to take it very seriously.
Smoking is, without any doubt, the primary preventable cause of ill health and premature death, which is why the Scottish Government are taking radical action to attempt to stub it out. We aim to create a tobacco-free generation by 2034. Smoking rates, especially among young people, are at record lows across Scotland.
We also share the view of the Royal College of Physicians and ASH that e-cigarettes should be regulated to encourage their use as a means of stopping smoking but to discourage their use by non-smokers. That is very much the dilemma that we have with advertising.
In Scotland, we know that e-cigarettes are almost certainly safer than cigarettes and have a role to play in helping people to quit smoking, but I certainly do not believe that children or young people should have access to them. A public consultation paper, “A Consultation on Electronic Cigarettes and Strengthening Tobacco Control in Scotland”, was launched in October 2014, following which the Scottish Government introduced the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016. The Act had cross-party support, although a number of concerns were raised during debates in the Scottish Parliament. Among other measures, it banned the sale of NVPs to under-18s, made it illegal to buy NVPs for under-18s and required all shops to have an age verification policy. That is key to preventing a new generation of people from using nicotine-based products.
In Scotland, there has been record investment in NHS smoking cessation services. We know they have a cost benefit for every pound we spend. My area is served by two NHS trusts: Forth Valley and Lothian. This issue falls under devolved competences, so it is worth pointing out that neither trust outwardly endorses e-cigarettes, unlike some stop-smoking services elsewhere.
Although I have been unable to ascertain accurate local figures, ASH states that there are 3 million vapers across the UK, half of whom have given up smoking, and that about 97% of all vapers are either current smokers or ex-smokers. The information available suggests that vaping is not currently a gateway to tobacco products and that it helps people to stop smoking, so it is genuinely a positive measure.
Vaping also helps to reduce second-hand smoke, as Colin Clark has said. In Scotland, the number of children affected by second-hand smoke in the home has reduced from 11% to 6%. I do not know what proportion of that reduction was caused by NVP products and what proportion was caused by the “Take it right outside” campaign, but both have clearly contributed to it.
There is clearly a role for vaping to play in helping people to stop smoking. Despite my thick throat—I have managed not to cough today—I have never smoked in my life, but I have many friends who have done so. Looking back over the years since the smoking ban was introduced in Scotland in 2006—I thought it was a birthday present for me, as it was introduced on my birthday,
Vaping is significantly less harmful than continuing to smoke. Harm reduction is not as good as cessation, but it is way better than smoking. Realistically, given how addictive nicotine products are, that may be the best we can expect for many people. I believe that vaping can lead to a serious reduction in smoking. I welcome this debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Dartford for securing it.