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The government’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill has taken a step forward towards legislation with retailers facing on-the-spot fines if they are found to be selling tobacco or vape products to children.

The new bill is part of the Prime Minister’s commitment to “create a smokefree generation”.

Under the Tobacco and Vapes Bill set to be introduced in Parliament today, children turning 15 this year or younger will never legally be able to be sold tobacco. Other measures as part of the bill include restrictions on vape flavours, packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops to protect children as well as on-the-spot fines for underage sales of tobacco and vaping products.

Commenting on the Bill, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said: “If we want to build a better future for our children we need to tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death: smoking.

“That is why, alongside new measures to curb the alarming rise in youth vaping, we are delivering on our commitment to create a smokefree generation and stop our kids from getting hooked on harmful cigarettes and other nicotine products. This important change will save thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS, freeing up new resource than can be spent to improve outcomes for patients right across the UK.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman warned of the impact of the measures on retailers. “The introduction of a generational ban on tobacco products will have an impact on retailers long term, as it involves training staff on a separate age restricted sales policy beyond the widely utilised Challenge25 procedures. We will work with our Primary Authority partners to provide clarity for retailers on exactly what they will be required to do in store.

“Despite the introduction of the Bill today, we are still awaiting detail on how the Government aims to restrict the vaping market, which it is currently running a number of chaotic disconnected workstreams on. The timescale for the introduction of the disposables ban has been set at April 2025, when retailers will have to restructure their vaping displays and gantries to switch solely to pod systems and rechargeable devices, but the timescale for further restrictions on those gantries is as yet unknown – meaning retailers will have to disrupt their businesses twice in quick succession.”

Lowman added that there will be added pressure on Trading Standards to enforce this legislation.

“Yet again the government have failed to arm Trading Standards teams with powers to enforce these policies properly. Token £100 fixed penalty notices for failing to adhere to vaping restrictions and the generational ban demonstrate how far off the mark this Government is with its enforcement strategy.

“There is a clear issue with the illicit trade in vaping and tobacco that needs to be addressed, as it is rogue sellers that are supplying dodgy products to anyone who wants them, including children, and operating without fear of reproach from Trading Standards teams that are already stretched beyond their limits. What we need is a coherent strategy focused on enforcing the rules that we already have and providing enforcement teams with enough resources to be able to do their jobs properly. New regulations that only affect responsible retailers will do nothing to deter the criminals that are importing and selling illicit products.” 

IBVTA chairman Marcus Saxton warned that too much legislation on vaping may hinder their effectiveness as a smoking cessation tool. “There are things to be welcomed in this Bill, such as strengthened powers of enforcement against retailers who engage in illegal sales. There is also a danger that with so many legislative avenues being sought to reduce youth uptake of vaping, ‘regulatory overkill’ may hamper the future of vaping as the UK’s leading quit aid for adults.

“The IBVTA looks forward to working positively and progressively with the Government to ensure that vaping becomes less accessible and desirable to children, and to adults that would not otherwise be smoking. However, this can only be considered successful in the context of continuing the decline in adult smoking rates that has accompanied the growth of the UK’s vape sector.

“Excessive restrictions on the types of products that our members can provide may reduce the products’ appeal, but even worse, may contribute to continued misperceptions about the harm of vaping relative to tobacco smoking. It is vital that more smokers understand that switching to vaping is of much lower harm and can help them to quit smoking for good.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ rights group Forest, said “the government has no mandate to ban the sale of tobacco to adults”.

“The policy has never featured in a single election manifesto, and less than a year ago the government dismissed the idea as ‘too big a departure’ and said it wasn’t going to pursue it. What’s changed, apart from Rishi Sunak’s increasingly desperate attempts to leave a personal legacy?

“No-one wants children to smoke, but the idea that government should take away people’s freedom to choose long after they have grown up is absurd,” he added. “Instead of rushing this vanity project through parliament, the prime minister should include the policy in the Tories’ election manifesto and let the people decide.”