May 20. 2024. 11:22

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UK’s radical bill on Tobacco and Vapes likely to become law


The UK parliament endorsed the Tobacco and Vapes Bill on Tuesday (16 April), which sets the ambitious target of the UK achieving smoke-free status by 2030, a decade ahead of the EU target.

Launched in March, the bill has two main targets: stopping youth vaping and a more radical plan that would prevent anyone born on, or after, 1 January 2009, from being able to buy tobacco products. The bill would become operative from the start of 2027.

Vaping

The UK has taken a relatively positive view of vaping and smoking alternatives for adults, especially compared to the known risks of smoking.

The government will continue to support a “swap-to-stop” scheme which provides free access to vape kits alongside behavioural support for adult smokers who are finding it difficult to quit smoking.

However, health officials have been spooked by the alarming rise in youth vaping. Over the last two years, the proportion of 11-17 year olds using disposal vapes has increased ninefold.

Vaping’s long-term impact on health is still unknown, but vapes containing nicotine will be highly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, difficulty with concentration and headaches.

The British government wants to ensure that children never vape. The bill introduces new powers to restrict vape flavours, packaging that is aimed at a youth market, and change the way they are displayed in shops – specifically, away from sweets.

The bill will introduce £100 (€117) ‘on the spot fines’ for the sale of tobacco or vapes to those under age. In addition, the UK is proposing a ban on the sale and supply of disposable vapes from April 2025 under separate environmental legislation.

Whilst resistance might have been expected from retail, the British Retail Consortium has welcomed the proposal.

“We look forward to supporting retailers in implementing the new age of sale legislation on smoking and future regulations around vapes,” said Andrew Opie, BRC’s director of food and sustainability. “Retailers will look to ensure they comply with the new regulation in a timely manner.”

Smoking

The new bill will make it illegal for those children turning 15 this year or younger to be sold tobacco.

This provision is causing consternation in some parts of the ruling Conservative Party, whose government is proposing the legislation. The Labour and Liberal Parties in opposition will support the government’s proposal, so even if there is a backbench rebellion by Conservatives, the bill is likely to have sufficient support.

Costs

The tobacco industry often claims that smoking restrictions contribute to lost national revenue and encourage contraband and illegal cigarettes, potentially supporting organised crime.

The UK has estimated that the impact of the bill will be to £18.6 bn, though this figure does not include the costs of reduced receipts from tobacco duty.

The main UK organisation dedicated to anti-smoking, ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) estimates that the cost of smoking to the public purse is twice as high as the revenue generated from selling cigarettes.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also made the proposal part of his “levelling-up agenda” addressing social and economic inequalities in the UK.

Health

The Chief Medical Officers of the UK’s four home nations have welcomed the legislation. There is also overwhelming support from the Smokefree Action Coalition of more than 300 health organisations.

Smoking is estimated to claim 80.000 lives in the UK every year and is responsible for one in four cancer-related deaths.

Cancer Research UK’s Executive Director of Policy, Dr Ian Walker said: “This legislation positions the UK as a world leader in tackling smoking. Raising the age of sale of tobacco products has strong public backing and is the boldest prevention measure in years.”

Europe next?

The UK’s bold move is in sharp contrast with the EU’s timidity in recent years.

The European Beating Cancer Action Plan laid out a number of legal initiatives linked to tobacco, but all of them have been delayed.

The review of the Tobacco Products Directive, Taxation Directive and cross-border purchases of tobacco by private individuals were foreseen for 2022, 2022 and 2024 respectively. Progress is not expected before the European elections in June, after which new European Parliament and Commission will be constituted.

Update

Tobacco and Vapes Bill passes its second reading in the UK Parliament with 380 votes in favour and 60 against, it will now move to committee stage where it will be examined in greater detail.

Read more with Euractiv

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