Examination of Witnesses

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 30 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Councillor David Fothergill and Greg Fell gave evidence.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Ceidwadwyr, South West Devon 2:00, 30 Ebrill 2024

We will now hear from Councillor David Fothergill, deputy chair of the Local Government Association, and Greg Fell, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health. We have until 2.30 pm for this session. I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record—I do not really need opening statements, because we will have plenty of questions for you, but if you want to add a sentence to your introduction, I will not object.

Cllr Fothergill:

Thank you for the invite this afternoon to speak on behalf of the Local Government Association, which speaks for all councils across England and Wales. I will present a combined view to you. I am chair of the community wellbeing board, the lead policy board, which is responsible for adult social care and health matters. I am delighted to be here. On the whole, we are supportive of the Bill, and that will be the thrust of the evidence I give.

Greg Fell:

I, too, thank the Committee. I am Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield and president of the UK Association of Directors of Public Health, thus representing DPH. Similarly, all DPH strongly support the Bill—I have yet to find a public health professional who does not, as I do not think that one exists, particularly on the smoking elements. No other product is as uniquely dangerous as smoking; we strongly support both the smoking and vaping elements of the Bill. I look forward to talking more.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

Effective enforcement will be key to the success of part 1 of the Bill, yet some local authorities tell me that they do not have even a single full-time trading standards officer. The illicit market in vapes is substantial—in Birmingham, 17,000 illicit vapes were removed. Do you think that local authorities have the resource needed to enforce the new measures on age for the sale of tobacco, and the new regulations on vapesQ36 ?

Cllr Fothergill:

Our view is that enforcement is key to the success of the legislation, and enforcement has to be through trading standards. Over the past few years, trading standards has had a number of reductions in its budget and cuts, as well as a restriction on the number of people being trained to come through in this area. We believe that we need clarity from the Government as to what the responsibilities for trading standards will be, and we need clarity about the funding that will be allocated. We also want to see an apprenticeship fund set aside for the training of new trading standards officers to come through. We need a longer-term view of trading standards. It is worth noting that trading standards is responsible for enforcing more than 300 pieces of legislation, so this is just another one, but it will add strain unless we get those clear responsibilities, clearer funding and apprenticeship levy put aside for the future.

Greg Fell:

I agree with all those points. There has definitely been a reduction in funding for trading standards over the years. It still exists—many local authorities spend quite heavily on trading standards—and it makes a difference. Enforcement against illegal vapes and tobacco is a clear example. Our trading standards team in Sheffield regularly confiscate very large quantities of illegal tobacco, which we know are linked to organised crime. Trading standards still exists and it does make a difference, but to make the Bill—hopefully Act—as successful as possible, we will need to invest sustainably in trading standards and other enforcement.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

Q In what circumstances do you envision that local enforcement would not be enough and the Secretary of State would need to use the powers to intervene granted to her by the Bill? That is in clause 64.

Cllr Fothergill:

We fully support the local penalty notice being issued by the councils. We believe that that is the right way to go and that it will not clog the courts, but there is always the option to refer to the magistrates court if required. Our big concern is the size of the fine, which we believe needs to be reviewed: £100 or, if paid within 14 days, £50 is hardly a penalty. We argue that we need to have greater opportunity to fine those in contravention of the law. Then, we believe, there would be less and less need for the Secretary of State to be involved. The reason he or she would need to be involved is if we cannot contain it—because we cannot issue enough penalty notices to contain it locally.

Greg Fell:

A similar issue would be multi-local authority enforcement scenarios. We know that organised crime networks are not linked to an individual area, so it stands to reason that there will be a need for enforcement that cuts across many authority areas, hence there is a need for networked trading standards. That might also include, possibly, the borders—stopping the imports of illegal vapes and tobacco.

Additionally, as Councillor Fothergill said, we are concerned about the size of the fine. Certainly I hear through DPH parochially, who talk to their trading standards and licensing teams, that when there is a much larger fine that may or may not be linked to the removal of an alcohol licence, that will make a retailer really sit up and think.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Q I appreciate you being here. Can you give me an idea of the LGA’s view of a licensing regime? That is not proposed in the Bill, but some people say that licensing would be a better alternative than the measures we are proposing here.

Cllr Fothergill:

Certainly. Although we fully support the Bill, we think there could be one or two changes, which I have already referred to—we would like to see amendments—and there is the option of a licensing scheme, which we would support. If it was done on a similar basis to liquor licensing, we would be able to enforce that, because it would be backed by legislation. Of course, we would need to make sure that trading standards were fully funded for that. We would support that, if it was something that the Government brought forward.

Greg Fell:

I cannot speak for the LGA’s position; ADPH does not have a formal view on licensing. I would broadly support it, but there is a danger that putting that into the mix delays getting the Bill through Parliament and turned into an Act, and getting the Bill through Parliament is arguably the most important thing.

I would broadly support that, but I come back to the complexity. Vapes are sold in hairdressers and beauty parlours and so on, so we would need to think it through. Arguably, if we are going to get into a licensing scheme, that should be for tobacco and nicotine-containing products, not just vapes; I would personally go to tobacco as well. Critically, the resourcing to make it work properly would need some very careful thought and consideration. All of that would need to be in the mix, but broadly I would support it, with those caveats.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Q You have already said that you do not think the penalties are high enough, but do you think that the enforcement rules as they are, with the proposals to change the packaging, move the location of vapes and so on, will make it easier or harder to enforce? Do you think that enforcement officers will have sufficient time to train and gear up to meet the challenge of the legislation?

Cllr Fothergill:

Specifically on vaping, we support the move to plain packaging, moving them away from the counter and restricting flavours—we support all those things. I have to say that we recognise the role of vaping in helping people to give up smoking, but where children and younger people are involved, we want to move the vapes away and make them less accessible. Trading standards will enforce that, as long as there are clear definitions of what can be sold, where it can be sold and who it can be sold to. A lot of the work that they do is evidence-led, so they will work on people who are giving them tip-offs or where they are seeing that there is a trend in an area where those products are being sold. As long as we are resourced and we recognise that a lot of that evidence-led work is required, it is entirely achievable.

Greg Fell:

I have a fairly similar view. Largely, trading standards do this work now. The easier and simpler we can make it, and the more we make sure that it is resourced appropriately, the better, but they largely do this job now pretty well.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

My question is for Greg Fell. The clarity and simplicity of knowing where you can smoke has meant that the universal principle of that bar has largely been applied, but it has not applied to vaping to date. Given that vapes contain not just nicotine but cannabis, Spice and other illicit substances, should the same restrictions be applied to vapingQ ?

Greg Fell:

Hopefully only illegal vapes contain cannabis or Spice, and not legally produced ones—I sincerely hope that is the case. I have mixed views on vaping in public. I think that Prof McNeill will talk later this afternoon. It is worth reading her evidence review for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which has a whole chapter on the passive inhalation of vapes. The ADPH does not have an official position on the passive inhalation of vapes, but my personal view is that in open spaces I am not too worried about it. In enclosed spaces, I might be, particularly for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, but I do not think that the evidence supports it being as big an issue as people think. However, that is definitely a question for Prof McNeill, who is the expert on such matters.

Photo of Steve Tuckwell Steve Tuckwell Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

The LGA has previously called for strict enforcement measures for those selling tobacco to those under-age. Do you think the Bill goes far enough in achieving thatQ ?

Cllr Fothergill:

I have already said that we believe the amount of the fine needs to be reviewed. We believe it is right to do it by a local penalty notice, which is issued locally and can be enforced. We do not believe that £100, reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days, is sufficient. It will not have the effect that it needs to have and it should be reviewed.

We are also keen, as part of the Bill, for a review of whether we should be brought into line with Scotland on age verification. Scotland has very clear guidelines that legally, people have to produce identification that they are of an age to buy, and we think this is an opportunity for us to bring that in as well. There are two things where we would like to see enforcement strengthened: mandatory age verification and an increase to local penalty notices.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster

I have a question for Mr Fell. Obviously the Bill will cover shisha, so I would welcome your views on shisha smoking and whether there is more we can do within the Bill or in general to tighten up shisha smokingQ .

Greg Fell:

I would say that we need a licensing scheme for shisha smoking, and probably more education about the fact that it is a potent way to consume large amounts of tobacco really quickly and is quite damaging for people’s lungs. I am not sure what more could be achieved in the Bill, but I would like to see a licensing scheme for shisha bars. We enforce the law to its limits, but there are some limits to it.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

I thank you for covering the issue of age verification; I think it is important to have a similar scheme across the UK. The other issue relating to licensing is that there are potentially two ways of licensing. One is to add to the existing alcohol licensing regime, and the other is to have a separate regime for vaping and tobacco. Which would you prefer to operateQ if we were to introduce a licensing scheme?

Cllr Fothergill:

It is not a topic that we have a policy position on, but my personal view is that it would need to be a separate scheme, because it would have separate enforcement and separate legalities within it. It needs to be very clear for trading standards what they are enforcing against, whereas alcohol is quite different. We should not mix the two just because they both need licensing. I think that they need to be separate.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

Q What is your view on the limitation of the number of premises that would be allowed to sell tobacco or vaping products?

Cllr Fothergill:

I could not answer that one, I am afraid, but I would be happy to come back to you with a view on that.

Greg Fell:

I have the same view. It is not my area of expertise so I would rather think about that one carefully.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Llafur, City of Durham

This is a question for Greg. It would be useful for the Committee and for people watching to hear your view on the impact of smoking and tobacco on public healthQ .

Greg Fell:

It is the single biggest cause of death. There is no real question about that. It may not be in many years’ time when smoking prevalence has come down, but right here, right now, it is. No other product is available that kills more than half its users when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Death is often preceded by a long illness—sometimes a short illness, but often a long one—often in folk of working age. Most people who die from smoking-related illnesses die too early.

Sheffield-wise—I know my numbers locally—it is a bit north of 700 deaths a year out of 5,000 or so, so not insignificant. To give you a reference, covid killed 1,500 people over the period of the pandemic. Smoking kills 700 people every year, year on year, and that is before we get into the illnesses. Aggregated across the country, that is 80,000-odd people—a Wembley stadium-sized group of people, a non-trivial number. It is also very inequitable and led by addiction. People spend enormous amounts of money on smoking, so stopping smoking would free up that money to be spent in other ways. Smoking remains the No. 1 cause of death and it is very inequitable—almost certainly causing the largest gap in healthy life expectancy and life expectancy inequality.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Llafur, City of Durham

David, do you want to add anything?

Cllr Fothergill:

I think Greg summed that up perfectly.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

Q Why do you support the complete ban as opposed to raising the age from 18 to 21, as many people often say? I know the Khan review has talked about not getting to a smoke-free future if we did that, but is there anything you would like to say about that?

Greg Fell:

Years and years ago, the narrative was about raising the age of sale to 21, but I think the evidence has shifted. I hear from a number of stakeholders and sources that the tobacco industry is targeting its public relations at slightly older young people—the 18 to 25 age group. If you were to stop at 21, the tobacco industry would just change its marketing and you would therefore get a new target group recruited into smoking. Nobody thinks that that is a good idea, so the evidence is shifting.

The ban sets a really important norm. We can all remember walking out of a pub smelling of cigarettes. We cannot imagine that now, so continually shifting the norm changes population behaviour just by norm shifting, which is important and often underplayed. I would support the lifting lid—I think that is the right phrase.

Cllr Fothergill:

I think Greg is absolutely right. At the LGA, we support the progressive lifting of the age as opposed to raising it to 21. We think that is the right way to go. It will then move through the population over a number of years rather than just being static at a single point.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

We heard in an evidence session earlier about the challenges in schools, with children vaping in increasing numbers. There is an impact on their education because of their becoming addicted, and that causes challenges in their interactions with the learning process. Do you think that the measures in the Bill are sufficient to deal with that growing problem? Do you have a view on whether we have a handle on the quantum of that problem, and are the measures on advertising sufficient to try to remedy that?Q

Greg Fell:

Yes, in part, in terms of the measures in the Bill. I would treat vapes like I would treat cigarettes in terms of colours and marketing, with plain packs out of sight behind the counter and strongly enforced. I would take care, though: we use and want to continue to use vapes as a route out of smoking cigarettes, so getting the balance right remains important, but I would be quite aggressive about the regulation and the deterrent.

Education in schools by itself will not be sufficient. It might or might not be effective, but it will not be sufficient. Action on Smoking and Health has co-produced with a number of local authorities a range of resource packs for parents, teachers and others, which are fairly widely used, but they are not sufficient by themselves to stop the rise in young people vaping, so we need strong regulation with the enforcement of that to boot.

Cllr Fothergill:

It is not part of this Bill, but it is part of LGA policy that we would like to see a ban on disposable vapes. There are 5 million sold every week, with the vast majority sold to younger people. The vast majority are thrown away. Those that are thrown away responsibly finish up in one of our recycling lorries where the lithium batteries cause major problems with fires. It is not part of this legislation, but we think that that needs to be tackled separately; I think it will be.

Greg Fell:

One point that I just remembered on the resource pack that has been widely circulated to headteachers and schools: a line was taken in that to tell the truth—not to over-egg the pudding but to tell the truth and say what we do and do not know, because in my experience scaring kids usually switches them on to something rather than turning them off something. In the pack, we have also told the truth about the methods and tactics that the tobacco industry has used to get kids hooked on vapes, and that as a rule makes kids pretty angry. It certainly makes parents pretty angry when they realise what has happened.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Sleaford and North Hykeham

If I may, Mr Fell, I will bring you back to the issue of passive vaping. You talked about there not being so much evidence on the harms of passive vaping compared with passive smoking, which is correct. Of course, smoking has been around much longer for the effects to be understood. However, there are papers, published in reliable journals such as Q The BMJ, saying that those people—in particular, young adults who do not smoke or vape—who are exposed to passive vaping do get an increase in bronchial symptoms.

Greg Fell:

Agreed.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Q There are effects. One reason why a former Government brought in the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was so that people would not be forced to experience such a risk, either at work or socially, which was one that they did not want to take. Would you, as a director of public health, support a ban in enclosed spaces for vaping, too?

Greg Fell:

Possibly. I would need to go back to the science and have a really careful look at it. There is the danger of unintended consequences and turning people away from vaping as a route out of smoking. Outdoors it is not a thing; indoors—for me, it is a carefully balanced thing and I would want to go back to read the science. It is a while since I have read it, to be fair.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Q If someone cannot smoke in a pub, why would not being able to vape in a pub make them smoke?

Greg Fell:

I am thinking of my logic now, and would agree. What I would not want is for somebody to not switch from smoking tobacco to vaping because they fear they would not be able to vape in a pub. That would be the unintended consequence I would try to avoid.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Ceidwadwyr, South West Devon

David, do you want to add anything?

Cllr Fothergill:

I have nothing to add.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

Q Again, the question is to Greg Fell. We know that there is a risk around a transition between vaping and smoking. I understand that a paper will soon be published on that in Sweden. A York schools survey has shown that 42% of children think that vaping is as dangerous as smoking and that 17% think that vaping is more harmful than smoking. How are we going to avoid future risk around young people taking up smoking, even if that is in later life? They are young people, obviously, today, but I am talking about young people outside the age group for the year-on-year increase.

Greg Fell:

I do not know that there is a lot of evidence on the gateway effect of switching from vaping to smoking. Again, there are proper experts, some of whom are sitting behind me. It might be something that you want to test them on later, but I do not know that there is lots of evidence of that. Nobody thinks it would be a good thing to do. I think it is fair to say that there is widespread misunderstanding, and occasionally misinformation, about the dangers of vaping in much of the popular press. When we read a study about immensely high doses of vape in the lungs of mice, that leads to awfully lurid headlines, and that causes people to have misunderstandings and misinformation about the relative risks and benefits of vaping compared with smoking. Sadly, I cannot stop that, but it is a problem and I do not think there is an easy solution, because the media like to publish good headlines. I get that; I understand it, but it often skews us away from what the science is actually telling us.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

Q One issue that was raised on Second Reading but which is not in the Bill at the moment is the practice, particularly by people originating from the Indian subcontinent, of chewing tobacco, particularly paan, and the fact that it can be bought in any place. There are no regulations on it; there is no control over what the product is or what the contents of the product are. What is the view on bringing some regulation in? It is questionable whether it can be within the scope of this Bill, but clearly that causes throat and mouth cancer in large numbers of people.

Greg Fell:

I do not have a view, Bob.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

You do not? I am surprised.

Greg Fell:

I do not think it is a terribly sensible thing to do. I do not think it would be possible to get it into this Bill. How one would regulate it I do not know. I shall give some consideration to that and get back to the Committee.

Cllr Fothergill:

Again, from our perspective, it is not an area that we have looked at in terms of policy. We do have a policy on shisha, but we have not gone as far as the product you have just mentioned. But we will, I am sure.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

I think we should have one.

Cllr Fothergill:

I agree.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Q You made a very good case for the age of sale rising each year, but as the LGA, do you think that will be tricky for enforcement purposes? An argument is often made that if you were 40 and I was 41, we would go into a store and I would have to buy your cigarettes for you. What would you say to that as an argument for continuing with the smoke-free generation legislation?

Cllr Fothergill:

We have to be very careful that we do not spook ourselves out of doing something that is absolutely right. If people get to the age of 40 and have to show that they are 40 to be able to buy cigarettes, that is what they should do. I am sorry to say that I am 67. I have to show a bus pass every time I get on a bus to show that I am old enough to travel for free.

Cllr Fothergill:

Thank you very much—I’ll take that.

At every stage in life, you are asked for verification, and this is just another time. It should not stop us from doing the right thing and moving the age up so that we eventually achieve a smoke-free population.

Greg Fell:

It is a long time since I have been asked my age. It may throw up some tricky moments, but as Councillor Fothergill said, let’s not stop ourselves doing the right thing here. I think most people agree that it is broadly the right thing. The Bill itself is massively important for norm-setting. Even if the norm-setting achieves half of the goal, thousands of lives will still be saved.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Ceidwadwyr, South West Devon

Greg, before I bring Andrea in again, you do not look 67 either. I want to get that on the record.

Greg Fell:

Not a day over 25, Chair.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Q I beg people to ask me my age when I am buying a drink, and they just will not.

The additional things—heated tobacco, shisha and so on—that come under this legislation include cigarette papers. We all know that they can be used for rolling joints and other purposes, and that cigarette papers contain carcinogens. However, some have quite a strong desire to exclude them—I do not know why. What is the view of the LGA and ADPH on that point?

Cllr Fothergill:

We believe that the scope of the Bill as it is currently written is right, and that is what we would support. We would not want to see anything excluded. Every time there is a change to smoking legislation, we hear the argument that it will increase the amount of illicit trade coming into the country. That is not a reason not to do it. It is our responsibility as trading standards to enforce, and although people always use that argument, we have to do the right thing and enforce by properly funding trading standards.

Greg Fell:

If I had £1 for every time I have heard the illicit trade argument, neither of us would be here. The heat-not-burn—the clue is in the title—is a tobacco product, and I would treat it like a tobacco product. It may be safer than burned tobacco—we do not know. I would like to see some independent research. However, I would not delay the Bill until I see independent research. I would personally argue to not allow exclusions. It may seem much harder to enforce, but there will already be some tricky points in enforcement; we already know that we need to resource that properly. I would keep the simplicity and not allow exclusions.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Ceidwadwyr, South West Devon

We have two minutes left. Is anyone burning to ask the last question? We have had very clear evidence and it has been an excellent session, but is anyone sitting on a question they have not yet asked?

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

Yes. Greg, I am picking up from the witnesses and evidence sessions we have had so far that there is almost an ideological feeling about vapes as a smoking cessation tool. You talked about the unintended consequences of people going back to smoking or not giving it up if we were to take a tougher line on vaping or the effects of vaping on others. I am slightly worried from a public health point of view: what if we discover that vaping is dreadful and we have taken the really strong stance of maybe not looking into it enough and giving it the urgency it needsQ ?

Greg Fell:

Again, without wanting to take the fifth amendment, that is a question for some of the experts behind me, who will give you a full view based on the science. We are 20 years into vaping now—we would probably have started to see significant amounts of vaping-related harm. Cases can always be found of somebody who has terrible lung damage as a result of vaping, but they are usually the exception rather than the rule. The comparator is always tobacco smoke: is it safer than tobacco smoke on the basis of all the science that we know, 20-odd years in? Yes, unequivocally. Is it safer than fresh air? No—hence we do not recommend that people who do not smoke start vaping. As the chief medical officer has said repeatedly, the tobacco industry marketing vapes to kids is completely unacceptable. I am happy—hand on heart, I can say that ADPH pretty much follows the line that it is a route out of tobacco smoking, as we know that smoking kills half of its customers or more. Should the science change in another 10 years, then we would change our view, but on the basis of the evidence we have now, I am happy that we have got the right position.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Ceidwadwyr, South West Devon

Thank you very much, David and Greg, for an excellent session with some very clear evidence.