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Rishi Sunak faces backlash from Tory right over disposable vape ban and 'smoke-free generation' plans
29 January 2024, 07:05 | Updated: 29 January 2024, 08:01
The government is pushing to ban disposable vapes to protect children's health, but faces a backlash from the Conservative right.
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce the plan to implement the ban - using powers already in place under the Environmental Protection Act - which is expected to come into force at the end of 2024 or the start of 2025, during a visit to a school on Monday.
It forms part of the Government's response to its consultation on smoking and vaping, which was launched in October last year.
Mr Sunak also wants to push ahead with a bill that would mean that no one born after 2009 could ever legally buy a cigarette.
But MPs on the right of his party, led by Liz Truss, called the plans "profoundly unconservative".
Teacher Brent tells Lewis Goodall about the vaping ‘epidemic’ taking over schools.
The former Prime Minister said: "While the state has a duty to protect children from harm, in a free society, adults must be able to make their own choices about their own lives.
"Banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born in 2009 or later will create an absurd situation where adults enjoy different rights based on their birthdate. A Conservative government should not be seeking to extend the nanny state.
"This will only give succour to those who wish to ban further choices of which they don’t approve."
Another Tory MP told the Times: "This is all redolent of the disastrous conference speech.
"I’m sure banning vapes goes down brilliantly amongst the Californian fasting community but our voters want the boats stopping and their wage packets growing."
Ms Truss and the other rebels are likely to back an amendment that would permanently raise the smoking age to 21.
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins on 'ensuring the first smoke-free generation'
Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the crackdown would "prohibit disposable vapes, but also set in the stone the ambition of the Prime Minister to create a smoke-free generation."
When Nick asked about comments made by the former PM, Ms Atkins said: "This is a big change, we absolutely acknowledge this," she said it was akin to the "debates we had a decade ago whether adults should be able to smoke in their cares with their children."
Branding it a "long-term decision for the future," the minister said the country "wouldn't want to go back to smoking in pubs."
New data shows the number of children vaping in the last three years has tripled, the Government said, adding that use among younger children is also rising, with 9% of 11 to 15-year-olds now using vapes.
Disposable vapes have been pushing the rise in youth vaping, with the proportion of 11 to 17-year-old vapers using disposables increasing almost ninefold in the last two years, it added.
New powers will also be introduced to restrict flavours which are specifically marketed at children and ensure that manufacturers produce plainer packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of children's sight.
New £100 fines will also be brought in for shops in England and Wales which sell vapes illegally to children.
Trading standards officers will be given powers to act "on the spot" to tackle underage tobacco and vape sales. This builds on a maximum £2,500 fine that local authorities can already impose.
Vaping alternatives - such as nicotine pouches - will also be banned for children.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "As any parent or teacher knows, one of the most worrying trends at the moment is the rise in vaping among children, and so we must act before it becomes endemic.
"The long-term impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine within them can be highly addictive, so while vaping can be a useful tool to help smokers quit, marketing vapes to children is not acceptable.
"As Prime Minister I have an obligation to do what I think is the right thing for our country in the long term. That is why I am taking bold action to ban disposable vapes - which have driven the rise in youth vaping - and bring forward new powers to restrict vape flavours, introduce plain packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops.
"Alongside our commitment to stop children who turn 15 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, these changes will leave a lasting legacy by protecting our children's health for the long term."
The UK Government, along with the Welsh and Scottish governments, intend to introduce legislation to ban disposable vapes due to their significant environmental impacts, according to the Welsh Government. This includes both nicotine and non-nicotine products.
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: "Smoking is still the single largest preventable cause of death in England. Almost every minute of every day someone is admitted to hospital with a smoking-related disease. And it costs society £17 billion each year - putting a huge burden on our NHS.
"That's why we are driving the way forward through our smokefree generation plan, which will prevent our children from starting this dangerous habit.
"The health advice is clear, vapes should only ever be used as a tool to quit smoking. But we are committed to doing more to protect our children from illicit underage vaping, and by banning disposable vapes we're preventing children from becoming hooked for life."
Under the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, the Government plans to introduce legislation so children turning 15 this year or younger can never legally be sold tobacco - to bring about the "first smokefree generation".
Some £30 million new funding a year will be provided to bolster enforcement agencies - including Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Trading Standards - to implement these measures.
Vapes should only be used by adults as a tool to quit smoking and they contribute to an extra 50,000-70,000 smoking quits a year in England, the Government said.
As part of the Government's Swap to Stop scheme, almost one in five of all adult smokers in England will have access to a vape kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit the habit.
Chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty said: "If passed, this legislation would have a major public health impact across many future generations."
The ban also aims to have a positive impact on the environment as five million disposable vapes are thrown away each week, up from 1.3 million from last year.
Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: "Not only are disposable vapes often targeted, unacceptably, at children - they also represent a huge and growing stream of hard-to-recycle waste, with nearly five million thrown away every week.
"This historic announcement will be a powerful tool in support of our efforts to crack down on waste and boost recycling, as well as helping to create the first smokefree generation."
HMRC estimates that the illicit tobacco trade costs the UK economy around £2.8 billion a year in lost revenue - money that should fund public services.
On Monday, HMRC and Border Force will publish a new illicit tobacco strategy - Stubbing Out the Problem - setting out how it will aim to reduce the trade in illicit tobacco and tackle and disrupt organised crime behind the illicit tobacco trade.
The Labour Party has said it will support the disposable vapes ban and "ensure these important measures to protect children's health are brought in" but criticised the length of time it has taken.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "What has taken the Government so long? Labour put forward measures to tackle vapes being aimed at children more than two years ago but these were blocked by the Conservatives. In the meantime, the numbers of young people vaping have soared.
"Labour will not sit back and allow a new generation of kids to get hooked on nicotine. Of course we will support this ban on disposable vapes."
The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA), said that "bans do not work".
Chair of the IBVTA Marcus Saxton said: “Children and those who have not smoked should not be using vapes and the industry is making significant efforts and progress to protect children including launching an industry code of conduct and changes to product descriptors and flavours.
"However, introducing bans on single-use vapes and flavours, will have hugely damaging consequences including making it harder for smokers to quit and will push those that have quit, back into smoking. Big tobacco will be rubbing its hands with glee in anticipation of possible vape bans and increasing their sales.
"Further, with an estimated third of the UK vape market comprising illicit products, a ban will simply benefit those pushing illegal and unregulated products as people seek out single-use and flavoured vapes from illicit sources.
"Research by Cancer Research UK and UCL published in recent days shows the critical role that single use vapes are playing in helping the 6.4 million smokers in the UK to quit and the risks of introducing bans. The vape industry stands ready to work with government to implement a proportionate regulatory regime, but introducing knee-jerk and unevidenced bans is not the solution. It’s simple – bans do not work."