Public Health (Wales) Bill – Tobacco and nicotine products

9 June 2015

Article by Victoria Paris, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This post is one of a series following the introduction of the Public Health (Wales) Bill on Monday 8 June. Further articles on each of the Bill’s proposals are being published throughout the week.

Image from ecigarettereviewed.com by Lindsay Fox. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Image from ecigarettereviewed.com by Lindsay Fox. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Smoking continues to be the largest single preventable cause of ill health and death in Wales, causing around 5,450 deaths each year.

The recently launched Public Health (Wales) Bill proposes a number of provisions with regard to tobacco and nicotine products.  These provisions are:

Restricting the use of nicotine inhaling devices such as electronic cigarettes in enclosed and substantially enclosed public and work places, bringing the use of these devices into line with existing provisions on smoking.

Although initial studies show that e-cigarettes deliver lower levels of nicotine and are generally less harmful than tobacco, this evidence, along with the overall evidence for the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a quitting aid, is conflicting and limited.

The purpose of this provision is to ‘balance the potential benefits to smokers wishing to quit with any potential dis-benefits related to the use of e-cigarettes’.  There was a mixed response to this proposal in the Welsh Government’s White paper consultation.

The most common reasons cited by private individuals in support of this proposal were that:–

  • the fumes from e-cigarettes are offensive, may contain nicotine and may be harmful;
  • e-cigarettes are being perceived as harmless and are being marketed as a glamorous activity in their own right (which may encourage use among young people); and
  • the use of e-cigarettes in public will influence children to copy adult smoking behaviours, thereby re-normalising smoking behaviours ‘through the back door’.

All of the local health boards in Wales and Velindre NHS Trust supported the proposal, as did Public Health Wales, Welsh local authority enforcement teams and their representative organisations.

Amongst the responses received from private individuals who were generally opposed to the proposal, the most common arguments provided were that:

  • e-cigarettes had helped them to quit tobacco (with some adding that other forms of nicotine replacement therapy had failed to do this);
  • e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco products; and
  • requiring e-cigarette users to congregate outside with smokers may expose them to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and tempt them to relapse.

Responses were also received from e-cigarette and tobacco companies, all opposing the proposal.  Responses from third sector organisations and a number of representative groups, including representatives of small businesses, retailers and health representatives, gave a mixed view.

Creating a national register of retailers of tobacco and nicotine products.

The purpose of this provision is to ‘reinforce the importance of protecting under 18s from tobacco and nicotine products, as well as reducing the risk of under 18s accessing these products’.

Currently there is no method of tracking retailers who sell tobacco or nicotine products, and therefore local authorities have to rely on local intelligence to enforce tobacco legislation.

This provision will mean that all retailers who sell either tobacco products or nicotine products in Wales will have to register in order to be permitted to sell these products.

A Registration Authority will be named to manage the national register for the whole of Wales, with the role of processing applications for premises to be included on the register.

In the Welsh Government’s White Paper consultation, most respondents were generally supportive of the proposal, with over 80 per cent of responses in favour of the introduction of a national tobacco retailers’ register.  Responses from the private sector, including those from a number of tobacco and electronic cigarette companies, did not fully support the creation of such a register.  Some respondents had reservations about the effectiveness of a registration scheme and the ability of a register to reduce under ages sales of tobacco products.

Adding to the offences which contribute to a Restricted Premises Order (RPO).

Currently a magistrates’ court is able to impose a Restricted Premises Order (RPO) on those who persistently sell tobacco to under 18s.  An RPO prohibits all sales of tobacco products (including cigarette papers) from the premises for a period up to one year.  The Bill is looking to enhance the RPO regime, to reinforce the importance of selling these products responsibly, by giving Welsh Ministers powers to include other tobacco offences that may be counted towards the application for a RPO.

Prohibiting the handing over of tobacco or nicotine products to people under the age of 18.

Currently there is no legislation which prevents tobacco products or nicotine products, which have been purchased remotely (i.e through internet or phone sales), from being handed over to a person under the age of 18.  The purpose of this provision is ‘reduce the risk of young people under the age of 18 from accessing tobacco and nicotine products’ by making it an offence to knowingly hand over these products to a person under the legal age of sale in Wales.

In the White Paper consultation, 44 per cent of respondents suggested that there is a problem of under 18s receiving delivery of tobacco products. 33 per cent stated that they weren’t aware, or couldn’t find evidence, of this being a real issue, but it was also suggested that the current arrangements would not allow such a problem to be easily identified.

Some specific concerns were expressed that existing age verification checks for online purchases are not robust enough, and that strengthening regulations in this area would be helpful.  However, a commonly raised issue was that of enforcement, suggesting it is difficult to control internet sales of tobacco, and that any legislation on this issue would therefore be difficult to enforce.