Here’s what we learned from the Tobacco Control Plan Debate

On Wednesday, MPs held a debate on the Government’s Tobacco Control Plan (TCP) in Westminster Hall. Led by the MP for Wellingborough, Peter Bone, the debate discussed the need to include vaping in the TCP, alongside the likelihood of the UK becoming smoke-free by 2030. 

Opening the debate, MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, reminded the house of the importance of reaching smoke-free by 2030, stating: “tobacco continues to account for the biggest share of avoidable premature death in this country. It contributes half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest”. 

With 7 million people still smoking in the UK, MP’s recognised the challenge of moving that number of individuals on to less harmful nicotine alternatives. Blackman went on to state: “We can migrate people and encourage them to quit. Ideally, they give up completely. However, because it is so addictive they may need help and assistance to do that. Vaping and non-heated tobacco are ways of migrating people to safer means of delivering the nicotine they desire.”

Increased taxation on tobacco companies was also discussed, following the Government’s promise to consider a US-style “polluter pays” levy in 2019. In the US, user fee legislation raises $711 million annually from the tobacco manufacturers, with the funds used to pay for stop smoking campaigns, tobacco control policy development, implementation and enforcement. 

Ian Paisley, Shadow DUP spokesperson, was not in favour of this, stating: “Tobacco companies already pay the Government £13 billion. An additional levy could lead to a significant increase in criminality”. Many MPs hold this opinion, so it could be a sticking point whenever the TCP plan is eventually published and debated. 

The lack of funding into public health services, compounded by the impact of Covid-19, has made it more difficult to access stop smoking services via GPs. MP’s seemed to agree on the importance of resolving this issue, with Blackman stating: “The Covid-19 pandemic has put huge pressure on public finances, and there is a desperate need for bold, properly funded policies to level up public health after the pandemic.” Considering the recent news that e-cigarettes could soon be made available on the NHS via prescriptions, an increase in funding to improve access to stop smoking services would be a welcome boost towards wider access to healthier nicotine alternatives, including vaping. 

Mark Pawsey, Conservative MP for Rugby and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for vaping, set up the group after one of his staff members successfully quit smoking with vaping. “Since setting up the APPG for vaping, we have heard from many members of the public about the benefits of vaping in enabling them to stop smoking, and the support that has been given to that position by Public Health England’s assertion in 2015 that vaping was 95% safer than smoking combustible tobacco”. 

Pawsey also went on to highlight the importance of making the public aware of how much safer vaping is, and that it should be treated as a completely separate activity to smoking. “It is absolutely essential that we do not conflate smoking combustible tobacco with vaping. That position is not helped by the fact that we regularly see in public places signs telling people that smoking is not permitted and nor is vaping. Signage and messages such as that are putting it in people’s minds that there is an equivalent harm between smoking and vaping, when we know that is not the case.” 

Andrew Lewer, MP for Northampton South, agreed and blamed misleading media articles and incorrect science as the cause of the public’s concern over the safety of vaping. “Some 53% of smokers believe that vaping is as harmful or more harmful than smoking, according to a 2021 Government updated evidence summary. There needs to be concrete and clear information on passive vaping to counter the public misconception that it is harmful.”

Lewer also offered some encouraging words for vape retailers and manufacturers too, calling for them to be able to responsibly promote their products online, and allow them to highlight both the cost and health benefits of switching to vaping. “Vape retailers are unable to use their own websites and social media platforms to communicate the benefits of vaping to customers. The barriers faced by online vape retailers are disproportionate and should be removed to allow effective communication with those attempting to stop smoking, which is critical, by switching to vaping.”

Maggie Throup, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Health and Social Care, agreed that e-cigarettes should play a vital role in the TCP, and promised an evidenced-based and pragmatic approach. “The evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are less harmful to health than smoking. It remains the goal of the Government to maximise the opportunities presented by e-cigarettes to reduce smoking while managing any risks.”

All parties that participated in the debate seemed to agree on the fact that vaping should be made a key tool in the Tobacco Control Plan. It was overall a very positive discussion where the vape industry is concerned, and hopefully the TCP will reflect this whenever it’s published. It was hoped that this would happen before the end of 2021, but as we near Christmas, it’s now more likely that we won’t see it until 2022. 

Regardless, it’s welcome news for the industry that MPs across the political spectrum continue to recognise the benefits and success of vaping in the UK. It’s hoped that this message will help reassure the public and put an end to any safety concerns, ultimately helping more people quit smoking for good.

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