Home > News > Llanelli Standard column……on the UK Government’s Tobacco & Vapes Bill

Smoking is the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill-health, disability and death. That is why, at last, after 14 years spent ignoring the need for targeted public health measures, the Conservatives recently introduced their Tobacco and Vapes Bill for consideration in Parliament.

Smoking leads to 80,000 deaths a year in the UK and is responsible for 1 in 4 cancer deaths and over 70% of lung cancer cases. Smokers lose an average of ten years of life expectancy and its puts a huge burden on the NHS – almost every minute of every day someone is admitted to hospital with a smoking-related disease and over 100 GP appointments every hour are due to smoking.

I appreciate, of course, that smoking is an addiction. Most smokers know the risks of smoking, want help to quit but are unable to due to the addictive nature of tobacco.  4 in 5 smokers start before the age of 20 and are then addicted for life. The last Labour UK Government led the way in tackling smoking – the smoking in public places ban introduced in 2006 has become a defining public health achievement. In the immediate aftermath of the ban, there was a fall in respiratory illnesses reported by pub workers, and a marked decrease in hospital admissions of heart attacks.

Vaping is less harmful than smoking but is still more dangerous than not vaping at all. Vaping is not safe for children and young people.

Back in 2021, along with other Labour MPs, I supported an amendment to the Health and Care Bill which would have banned the branding and marketing of vapes to appeal to children. The Tories voted this down. Since then, youth vaping rates have increased significantly. It estimated that 140,000 more children have taken up the habit.   Up to one in three vapes sold in shops in the UK are thought to be illicit. This means that children are also being exposed to vapes that contain heavy metals, antifreeze, poster varnish, as well as illegal levels of nicotine.

So, what difference will the Tobacco and Vapes Bill mean in practice, should it be passed into law?

Its main effect will be to gradually phase out smoking altogether by making it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009. This would mean anyone aged 15 or younger this year would never legally be able to smoke.

The Bill will reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children, by providing powers to restrict the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that vape flavours are no longer targeted at children and regulate how vapes are displayed in shops, their packaging and product presentation.

It will close loopholes in the law – which allow children to get free samples, be sold non nicotine vapes and strengthen enforcement activity, through new powers to fine and sanction rogue retailers, including a new fixed penalty notice for shops in England and Wales which sell vapes illegally to children.

Whilst the Bill is undoubtedly a positive start, it is important not to just sit back and allow a new generation of kids to get hooked on nicotine and vapes. Local councils, the NHS and government need to ensure that public health and preventative care is properly funded and readily available for those that need it.

After over a decade of neglect in Westminster, it is time to put public health first, prioritise prevention to ease pressure on the NHS, improve access to smoking cessation services and take on the tobacco companies profiting off people’s health.