E-cigarettes — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:07 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford 2:07 pm, 31st October 2019

Unlike the three previous speakers, I rather hope that this will not be my last speech in Westminster Hall—but that is up to the people of Dartford, not me.

I am pleased to contribute to the debate, because I feel strongly that vaping is something that we should embrace as a country. It has been mentioned that Public Health England says that vaping is 95% risk-free; that is really significant, and it is not just Public Health England making such statements. Cancer Research UK says that there are significant benefits from vaping in comparison with tobacco consumption. ASH, the British Heart Foundation and the British Lung Foundation—organisations that understandably have traditionally frowned on anything associated with smoking—recognise that vaping saves lives. That is what we are talking about, and the sooner the country recognises that we have an invention that could save thousands of lives in the UK, let alone the rest of the world, the sooner we can start saving the maximum possible number of lives.

It was with great regret that we heard the stories coming out of the United States. It was only when we starting drilling down and saw that the deaths were potentially linked to acetates, cannabis oil and so on—those are the irritants actually causing the deaths—that we recognised that we should not allow those tragic circumstances to cloud people’s image of vaping. It is not only clinicians who are unsure about vaping, and whether they can recommend it to patients; the general public are also unsure whether vaping is as safe as some experts have said. We need to educate people, and say that it is a well-known fact that tobacco seriously damages health and therefore is highly risky, but that with vaping the risks are substantially smaller.

Nobody in this debate, or anywhere in the House of Commons that I am aware of, is suggesting that people who do not smoke should take up vaping. The suggestion is that it is people who smoke, and who are addicted to tobacco and nicotine, who will benefit from vaping. There are risks associated with pretty much anything, and vaping is no exception. The message should go out loud and clear that people who do not smoke should not start vaping, but people who smoke may wish to try that alternative as an effective way of reducing their tobacco consumption, or helping them to come off tobacco completely.

I welcome the fact that some tobacco companies have embraced vaping; they realise its potential. Japanese Tobacco International has highlighted to me some of the dangers associated with products that do not contain nicotine, and so do not come under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and can be targeted at children. They can be marketed to look like food, or something trendy that people will want to get involved with, and as they do not have to comply with the tobacco regulations, their ingredients are not known. We need to look at that.

The Science and Technology Committee, chaired by Norman Lamb, has looked at the 2016 regulations, which have serious flaws. For a start, they should not lump together tobacco and vaping products; they should be covered by separate regulations. That would bring an end to the ridiculous situation whereby a vaping product that has no nicotine in it must have a warning on its front saying, “This product contains nicotine”. If the vaping company does not put that warning on its product, it will fall foul of the regulations, but if it does, it might fall foul of other regulations; it is a crazy situation that has developed.

We need to consider whether it is right to allow more advertising of vaping products. I believe that it is, but regulations seem to prevent that. I think it is right that we should enable people to be educated, and aware of the products available and their potential benefits.

I do not want to turn this into a debate on Brexit, but there is no getting away from the fact that once we leave the European Union, we as a country can look at the regulations ourselves, and see what best suits our needs and what would be a sensible approach to vaping. We can ensure that people are aware of vaping and can benefit from it, so we should do so.

I have met a number of organisations that are trying to push forward a change in vaping regulations. Imperial Brands—formerly Imperial Tobacco—is doing a lot, and there is also a company called Blu, whose products are pioneering. That is a key part of the process. Companies are investing a lot in developing products that will be attractive to smokers, in that they will satisfy their cravings, so that they feel less necessity to smoke cigarettes.

I do not want to demonise smokers. If an adult chooses to smoke, knowing the risks, that is their decision. However, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that people are aware of the alternatives to smoking, of the risks, and that there is comparatively less risk associated with vaping.

The Government are rightly pursuing a target of reducing the number of people who smoke and eventually eliminating smoking in this country. That is very ambitious, and if we are to achieve that, it will be necessary to introduce people to vaping through their GP.