Northern Ireland

Health Minister ‘deeply frustrated’ as general election date sinks tobacco and vapes bill

The UK Tobacco and Vapes Bill would have made it illegal for anyone born since 2009 to ever legally purchase tobacco.

The decline in the number of cigarettes being smoked in England has ‘plateaued’, according to new analysis
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

THE Health Minister Robin Swann has spoken of his “deep frustration” that the July 4 election means a bill restricting the sale of tobacco and vapes won’t progress.

One of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship policies to create “a smoke-free generation,” the Tobacco and Vapes Bill would have stopped young people born since 2009 ever being able to legally purchase tobacco.

Mr Swann said it would have been “a wholly transformative step forward in public health” and that he had moved “at pace” to have Northern Ireland included.

“Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable illness and premature death, with over 2,000 people in Northern Ireland dying from smoking attributable conditions every year. Treating tobacco related conditions also costs our hospitals over £200m annually,” he said.

“The best way to protect people from tobacco is to try to prevent them from taking up smoking in the first place.

“It is therefore hugely regrettable that the UK’s chance to create a new smoke-free generation came so tantalisingly close has ultimately been lost.”

Robin Swann leaving the Clayton Hotel in Belfast after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry
(Liam McBurney/PA)

Charities including Cancer Focus Northern Ireland were among those “highly concerned” that the initiative could be in jeopardy and urged any future government to revive the bill.

“This Bill could help eliminate the harms from tobacco and improve public health for years to come,” a spokesperson said.

“Smoking kills two-thirds of smokers, is linked with 15 cancers, and costs our health service £200m+ each year. It is the most preventable cause of ill-health in the UK.”

Neil Johnston, Public Affairs and Policy Manager for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke said there remained “huge popular support” for the bill and cross party backing in Westminster.

“NICHS hope that, whoever wins the General Election, the next Secretary of State for Health at Westminster will re-introduce this Bill in the Autumn.

“NICHS strongly supports the measures in the Bill and indeed would again call on our Assembly to go further.”

He said this would include stronger enforcement of the laws banning the selling of vapes to under 18s to prevent them becoming addicted to nicotine and potentially risking their health through vaping.

“In 2016 the Assembly wisely introduced a register for all retailers who wish to sell tobacco products. We believe that the Assembly should now extend registration to vaping products.”

“Currently it is a free for all – anyone can sell vapes - making the life of council enforcement officers very difficult.”