Politics & Campaigns

Hayes Introduces Anti-Vape Bill

Labour Helen Hayes has introduced a Bill with cross-party support to attack the branding, promotion and advertising of electronic cigarettes

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Helen Hayes has introduced her Bill to attack the branding, promotion and advertising of electronic cigarettes. She claims the purpose of her bill is to prevent vapes being marketed “in a way which appeals to children and for connected purposes”. Her Bill has been co-signed by Andrew Gwynne (L), Rachael Maskell (L), Alex Cunningham (L), Mary Kelly Foy (L), Mrs Paulette Hamilton (L), Kirsten Oswald (SNP), Maggie Throup (C), Caroline Nokes (C), Dr Caroline Johnson (C), Daisy Cooper (LD) and Peter Gibson (C).

Helen Hayes MP presented her Electronic Cigarettes (Branding, Promotion and Advertising) Bill to the House of Commons for the First Reading last week.

Justifying the need for the Bill, she said: “We are seeing a rapid and very concerning increase in underage vaping. A recent study by Action on Smoking and Health found that in the past three years the number of children taking part in experimental vaping has increased by 50%. One in five 11 to 15-year-olds in England used vapes in 2021, a figure that is likely to be significantly higher now. Alongside this has come significant growth in the awareness of e-cigarette promotions, with 85% of children now conscious of e-cigarette marketing either in shops or online.

Hayes continued: “We can see how this has happened. In every single one of the constituencies we represent, on high streets and in town centres up and down the country, there are vaping shops where the shelves and window displays are filled with brightly coloured packaging and products. The packaging mimics popular brands, with flavours of sweets like gummy bears, Skittles and tutti-frutti, or soft drinks like cherry cola, or emblazoned with images of cartoon characters.

“The problem is just as widespread online, with vapes being openly promoted to children on social media sites, drawing them into experimental vaping so that they become addicted to nicotine. The marketing strategy is clear to see: the products are designed to be attractive to children, to draw them in when they are very young so that they will become addicted to vaping and then become long-term customers.”

The MP for Dulwich and West Norwood says that vaping is no longer a tobacco harm reduction tool, having “shifted” to a recreational activity. Devoid of evidence of demonstrable harm, the arguments hark back to the moralistic attacks on other personal activities because they were deemed bad – some things are just not meant to be enjoyed.

Of course, she can’t say that, so she points to a bête noir instead.

It is driven by the rapacious desire of tobacco companies—which fund many of the largest e-cigarette suppliers—to keep making a profit from the highly addictive substance of nicotine,” she claimed.

The MP pointed to recent evidence from the ONS showing an increase in vaping in children and young people. This is her evidence that the tobacco industry’s approach is working, “with a particularly sharp increase in the number of young women using vapes.”

She doesn’t comment on the ongoing dramatic decline in smoking though.

The important role of vaping in smoking cessation has led to a widespread perception that it is a harmless activity, rather than a less harmful activity than smoking” she continued. “It is not harmless. Last year, 40 children were admitted to hospital for suspected vaping-related disorders. Young people using e-cigarettes are twice as likely to suffer from a chronic cough than non-users. There are reports that nicotine dependency contributes to cognitive and attention deficit conditions and worsens mood disorders.”

There is still no evidenced link between vaping legal, registered products and these “disorders”.

She continued: “Concerns about vaping are being widely raised by teachers and parents in a way that was not the case just a couple of years ago. Schools are installing heat sensors in addition to smoke detectors in school toilets, taking steps to stop children constantly leaving the classroom to vape, and managing the impacts of addiction to nicotine on the mood and concentration levels of their students.”

Heat sensors do not detect vapour, concerns are nothing without hard evidence.

The sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is already illegal, but the dramatic increase in the number of young people vaping shows that the current legislation is completely ineffective, so we must learn from the substantive evidence on what worked in reducing smoking rates among children. In 1982, when smoking rates among children first started being monitored in England, one in five children were current smokers—the same as the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds now vaping. Eighteen years later, despite substantial advertising campaigns to educate young people on the dangers of smoking, the proportion was exactly the same. That was not because children were not educated about the dangers, but because some adolescents are more susceptible to taking risks.”

So, since a ban on the sale of the products doesn’t seem to have worked, the plan is to go after the mechanisms by which adults are encouraged to switch.

Between 2000 and 2021, smoking rates among children fell from 19% to just 3%—not because of better education or enforcement of the existing prohibition on the sale of cigarettes to children, but because the regulatory framework during that time ratcheted up year by year. Under the last Labour Government, all point-of-sale advertising and display of tobacco was prohibited. A comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy was implemented by HMRC and UK Border Force, which reduced sales of illicit tobacco, and cigarettes were put in standardised packaging with all the brightly coloured glamourised imagery removed.

“What is true for the strategy to tackle smoking is true for the challenge of vaping. Without much tougher regulation, we will not succeed in driving down vaping among children and young people. Regulations on packaging, advertising and labelling are essential. It is disappointing that the Government refused to support the amendment to the Health and Care Bill tabled by my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy in November 2021, which would have prohibited branding that appeals to children on packaging.

“An Opposition day debate in July also served to demonstrate the high level of cross-party consensus on this issue, yet the Government have still not announced any action to address it.”

She says the Government should address a “series of important and complex issues relating to e-cigarettes”:

  • the harmful impact of disposable vapes as a source of plastic pollution
  • the fire hazard caused by the presence of batteries within the vape casing
  • the alarming rise in the number of 18 to 25-year-olds who have never been smokers using e-cigarettes as a recreational activity in their own right

Adding, “But there can be no disagreement that urgent action is needed right now to stop the sale of vapes to children and to halt the number of children who are becoming addicted to nicotine.”

Finally, Helen Hayes said: “No one wants to undermine the vital role of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation—smoking remains far more harmful than vaping and a major threat to health—but brightly coloured branding, advertising, names and imagery specifically designed to make vaping products attractive to children are not remotely necessary for vapes to be readily available to those who can benefit from vaping as a smoking cessation tool. My Bill is designed to deliver rapid action on an issue on which there is broad consensus and that is presenting itself with increasing urgency in families, schools and communities right across the country.

“My Bill would ban e-cigarettes from being advertised, branded and packaged to appeal directly to children, including online. We know this will work, because the same approach was so effective in reducing smoking in children. We can act now to stop the harms of nicotine addiction to the physical and mental health of children and young people. I hope that the Government will choose to support this Bill and take the action needed to protect children’s health. I commend it to the House.”

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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