Government Vape Threat Removed

Much has been spoken about Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the potential threat to vaping it posed. With vapers being mobilised by consumer advocates and experts writing to ministers, it seemed that nobody was listening. But, at the eleventh hour, just as the committee was about to present its recommendations for the final changes – the Bill has been dropped due to the general election being called. We clear up what has happened and what to expect next.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill
By way of a quick recap, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill sought to grant ministers powers to restrict eliquid flavours to four types: tobacco, menthol, mint, and “fruit”. It was also going to put in place further restrictions on packaging design (removing bright colours), banning in-store displays and forcing supermarkets to place vapes with the cigarettes, further restrictions on advertising and marketing, and a ban on single-use disposable vapes.

In addition, a tax is set to be levied on nicotine containing juices.

The history behind the Bill
Initially sceptical, British politicians were won over to the idea of tobacco harm reduction relatively swiftly due to the strength of independent research evidence from UK universities. Tobacco harm reduction works in the same way that contraception reduces harm from sexual encounters or seat belts do with driving – safer nicotine products don’t eliminate harm, but they do drastically reduce it.
Swiftly, the NHS began adopting pro-vaping policies and promoting switching to vapes on its website as other public health bodies echoed the positive message through their on- and offline outlets.

This began to change in 2023 when, out of the blue, Dr Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham placed a 10-minute member’s Bill before the House of Commons calling for a complete ban on single-use disposables. Johnson’s Bill was cosigned by another non-minister, Andrea Leadsom, who made a number of unevidenced claims during the debate. And then she became the Minister responsible for the Tobacco and Vapes Bill.

When it was first presented to the House, ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the Tobacco and Vapes Bill “absolutely nuts”.

A committee debated
The committee stage of the Bill was weighed down by controversy as members of the committee shared half-truths and complete fiction with each other to support moves to make the possible restrictions on vaping even tougher.
The UK Vaping Industry Association said the proceedings were “a depressing example of political posturing at its worst”.
The Association’s Director General, John Dunne, said: “Youth vaping is not totally the fault of this Government, but they cannot ignore the elephant in the room. The vaping industry has for years been calling for more resource for Trading Standards to police underage sales and yet this current administration have reduced funding while expecting more enforcement. The reaction to this situation, exemplified by the committee’s Chair, Andrea Leadsom, is to double down on blaming the industry for everything and taking no responsibility itself.”

A general election was called
When Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a general election, he forced Parliament to rush through its outstanding work. The only Bills that could be put into law were those that were almost at the end of their journey through the Houses of Commons and Lords.
All the time spent working on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill counted for nothing, the Prime Minister counted the rolling ban on children ever buying tobacco products as one of his achievements at the lectern in front of Number 10 – but within days the Bill lay dead on the floor as it failed to be included in the list of items in the “wash-up”.

The UK Vaping Industry Association commented: “The General Election gives everyone time to pause, take stock, and – should this Bill be reintroduced once a new government is formed after July 4 – we will continue to engage with whoever is in power.
“Whatever happens, the UKVIA remains committed to ensuring that adult smokers and vapers continue to have excellent access to the vaping products and flavours they require to keep them off cigarettes while protecting those underage from ever starting.”

Will the Tobacco and Vapes Bill reappear after the election?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that the Tobacco and Vapes Bill will feature in the Tory election manifesto and, should the Conservatives win the election, will present the Bill to the House again.
Labour previously said that it would bring its version of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill to the House if it won the election, but the party has not confirmed whether this will feature in their manifesto or not.
Action on Smoking and Health’s Deborah Arnott said: “While the Tobacco and Vapes Bill appears to be a victim of a snap election, all is not lost…We are confident that whoever forms the next government this Bill will return, and its passage will be expedited.”

A taxing problem remains
While the threat of a poorly considered Tobacco and Vapes Bill has receded temporarily, the tax on vaping eliquids remains. The government’s vaping duty consultation continued to this Wednesday’s deadline and the information submitted will inform the incoming administration’s tax policy.
The UK Vaping Industry Association warned: “The Conservative Party’s proposal to tax vapes based on nicotine strength, predicted to increase the cost of some products upwards by 300%, threatens to undo the work the category has already done in saving millions of smokers’ lives.”
John Dunne explained that a tax on vapes “may be inevitable”, but said the next government needs to focus on avoiding punitive taxation that will run the risk of “demonising vaping” and discouraging smokers from making the switch, which “would have disastrous, and in many cases fatal, consequences”.

The industry body believes the best way forward for a new administration would be to introduce a vape licensing scheme to “deter rogue retailers, protect our children and help a heavily under-funded Trading Standards to police retailers by raising £50m a year from the industry”.