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The minister for vaping resigns, new appointments have been made in the Department of Health, eyebrows are raised at links to industry, and Andrea Leadsom fields her first questions

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Neil O’Brien, the minister for vaping, has resigned as a health minster. The Prime Minister has made new appointments in the Department of Health and Social Care, but eyebrows were immediately raised when undeclared conflicts of interest came to light. Despite this, Andrea Leadsom fielded her first questions on vaping and tobacco harm reduction.

Neil O’Brien has resigned his position as a junior health minister, telling the Prime Minister that he wanted ‘to spend more time with his family’ – the latest in a long line of politicians who use the phrase as a face-saving exercise when being sacked.

The Market Harborough MP stated: “With so much going on locally I want to focus 100% on constituency work so have asked to go to back benches. I’m also keen to see more of our two small children.”

Given the endless turnover of senior and junior ministers over recent years, O’Brien had a pretty good innings, managing to last in post since September 2022. During his time he remained largely in favour of evidence-based regulations but this tailed off recently with the populist move to ban disposables and restrict access to flavoured eliquids.

As part of the reshuffle in the Department of Health and Social Care, in comes Andrew Stephenson as health minister (in place of Will Quince) and Dame Andrea Leadsom (to replace Neil O’Brien) as the junior health minister with a remit for vaping. Victoria Atkins fills Steve Barclay’s shoes as the new Secretary for Health and Social Care.

Atkins instantly caused an upset as news leaked that her husband hold a senior post at ABF Sugar, one of the leading UK medical cannabis companies. ABF Sugar regularly lobbied ministers against the introduction of a sugar tax aimed at dealing with the country’s growing obesity crisis.

Atkins has since announced that she will not be getting involved in policies relating to obesity and cannabis – a large part of her actual job. The Department stating: “[She will] recuse herself on departmental issues relating to outside interests”.

So, what can vapers expect from Dame Andrea, an MP for South Northamptonshire?
It’s not terribly good news.

Leadsom is one of the signatories to Dr Caroline Johnson’s 10-Minute Bill aimed at banning all disposable/single-use vapes from import, sale and use in England and Wales. Leadsom congratulated her colleague for her speech when introducing the Bill to the House of Commons; a speech that contained multiple factual inaccuracies, myths, and pleas to emotion over facts and evidence.
All told, if the Government lasts long enough, Dame Leadsom could have a disastrous impact on the successful to date Conservative approach to tobacco harm reduction.
Labour’s Rachael Maskell posed Leadsom’s first question, asking her whether the Department has made an assessment of the impact banning vaping for children will have on adults.

Given that this is a likely outcome of the consultation process, it is good that Leadsom had the opportunity to set out the evidence underpinning the policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care told her that, “no assessment has been made as it is already illegal to sell vapes to children.”

As above, it doesn’t bode well.

Kwasi Kwarteng, taking time off from not apologising for causing a £65bn bond-buying programme and sending interest rates soaring, asked the Secretary of State whether she plans to ban single use disposable vapes.

Andrea Leadsom told Kwarteng: “The Government is consulting on a range of proposals to tackle the rise in children vaping. The includes measures to restrict the supply of single use vapes, such as a potential future ban. Details of the full range of proposals under consideration are set out in the Government consultation ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping.”

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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