UK Snap Election Puts Tobacco and Vapes Bill on Hold

UK Snap Election Tobacco Vapes Bill

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s surprise announcement of a snap election on May 22 has effectively shelved the contentious Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which was close to becoming law after passing through the House of Commons in April.

The bill, which aimed to permanently ban anyone born after 2008 from legally buying cigarettes by gradually raising the minimum purchasing age from the current 18, had faced controversy, with a similar law in New Zealand being ditched in late 2023. The legislation also sought to give ministers new powers to restrict vape flavors, other contents, packaging, and point-of-sale displays deemed to attract youth, in response to recent outcry over youth vaping.

Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates React

Tobacco harm reduction advocates had condemned these provisions, along with a new vape tax announced in March, arguing that access to vape flavors is critical for many adults who switch from smoking. The bill’s sudden halt has been met with mixed reactions from these advocates.

“Legislation like this has a wide range of life-or-death consequences and needs careful and prolonged scrutiny,” said Clive Bates, a British tobacco harm reduction expert from Counterfactual Consulting, in an interview with Filter. “It should not be rammed through in a couple of days.”

Bates expressed his gladness that the bill has been scrapped for now, stating that a delay means a chance to reconsider. “More importantly, a delay means a chance to reconsider,” he added.

The Future of the Bill Post-Election

Despite the bill’s temporary halt, Sunak recommitted himself and his Conservative Party to the legislation in his May 22 speech, stating that his party would “ensure that the next generation grows up smoke-free.” The bill is expected to feature in the party’s election manifesto.

However, with dismal polling for the Conservatives, the left-of-center Labour Party is heavily favored to form the next government. In April, Labour supported the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which passed by 383 votes to 67, with most of the votes against coming from Conservative MPs rebelling against their party’s leadership.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader and potential next prime minister, has supported the incremental smoking ban, and his party has pledged to reintroduce it if it wins power. Despite this, Bates sees some potential for flexibility on some of the measures once they’re revisited after the election.

“I hope that Labour will include a commitment to legislate, but will not slavishly stick with the flawed Tory [Conservative Party] proposals,” Bates said. “The legislation has pointless measures on smoking and counterproductive measures on vaping—what I call a misfire combined with a backfire. We need to use vaping to address the problem of smoking in middle-aged adults and take a more sophisticated approach to protecting youth.”

Bates concluded by expressing his desire for a new government to come in willing to take a fresh look at how best to deal with tobacco and nicotine. “We now have a chance to get this right,” he said.

As the UK prepares for a snap election, the fate of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill remains uncertain. The outcome of the election and the stance of the new government will play a crucial role in determining the future of tobacco and vaping regulations in the country.

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Sudden UK Election Shelves Contentious Tobacco and Vapes Bill

Matthew Ma