Vaping Debated at the House of Lords

 

This is a very subjective and sketchy account. 

On Monday evening I went with several other “concerned vapers”  to the House of Lords to watch the debate on Lord Callanan’s motion to regret the Tobacco and Related Products Legislation 2016.  This was (incredibly) the first time the TRPR (the bill formerly known as the TPD) had been debated in a main chamber in the Houses of Parliament, so it was a historic occasion.

As a MEP in 2014 Lord Callanan had been influential in preventing the EU from making ecigs only available under medicinal regulations and he also fought the TPD in its later form.  

On 10th May 2016 a Motion to Take Note, proposed by Viscount Ridley, was debated in the Moses Room in the Lords.  Following this Lord Callanan proposed a Fatal Motion against the TRP:  this would have annulled the legislation, if successful.  Vapers then wrote thousands of letters to the Lords asking them to support the motion.  It was an unprecedented campaign: some of the peers had never received a letter or email from a member of the public. Apparently many peers also forwarded the emails to the Department of Health.  ASH was then prompted to counteract this by emailing MPs and Lords (at least twice) to proclaim that the regulations were needed. (Yes, the leading anti smoking charity lobbied the government to keep legislation which will neuter what is arguably the most effective smoking cessation tool.  Strange times!).   Lord Callanan was then forced to withdraw his fatal motion as it was clear that it had very little chance of success but was instead given this time to debate his regret motion.

Lord Hunt (Labour) put an amendment to Lord Callanan’s regret motion forward.  

Lord Hunt is the President of the Royal Society for Public Health, so it wasn’t so surprising that his motion suggested that more state intervention could fix the problem:  i.e  the government should fund a public information campaign to advise that vaping is safer.  He regretted that smoking cessation services are being cut back.  Baroness Walmsley (Lib Dem) put up a separate regret motion but this was later withdrawn because it hadn’t attracted support from the other parties.   It seemed that the best hope was for Lord Callanan’s motion to get passed with the Labour amendment,  not because Lord Hunt’s amendment was great but because that was the only chance of success, provided enough Labour peers turned up to vote on it.   Regret motions are largely symbolic: they have no practical effect except possibly that of embarrassing the government if they get passed.  

We arrived at the visitors entrance to the Houses of Parliament and whizzed through security, then walked through the central lobby and then waited for a few minutes on a bench before being ushered up to the Spectators Gallery.  The gallery is perched up very high above the chamber which makes for quite a surreal and, often frustrating viewing experience.  There’s a sign forbidding the use of opera glasses, unfair to those of us with middle-aged eyesight.  We were early so sat through a bit of the Bus Services Bill (worthy but did make us yawn).   Lord Blunkett turned up but left before vaping got debated.   The Bus Bill reflected on the Lords really well – as far as I could tell (without opera glasses) not one person was asleep in the chamber.  We woke up when the vaping debate started and from there in there was never a dull moment for us – the gallery did however gradually empty of all other spectators.   

Lord Callanan opened the debate with a fantastic speech which was very scathing of the MHRA and the government, especially Anna Soubry. That summary does not do it justice,  please read it if you have time.   Dick Puddlecote has written an excellent analysis of it here.   It was very tempting to applaud (or at least shout “hear hear”) and from this point on we found it difficult to exercise the appropriate self control from our seats up against the roof.

At the Moses room debate Lord Prior of Brampton, a Minister for Health, had expressed the hope “that enforcement will be more Italian than traditionally British.”  

Here Lord Callanan’s opening speech alluded to Lord Prior’s previous ambivalence to the TRPR:   

“Everyone who spoke in that debate—including, to his enormous credit, the Minister—expressed considerable concern about these regulations.”

However on Monday it soon became apparent that Lord Prior hadn’t been given license to give any ground. The Moses Room debate had caught the government on the hop but this time there was opposition to the motion and that opposition was organised.

Although it was only a regret motion the government had lined up an ex director of ASH, an ex chair of the BMA board of science and a former health minister to speak against it.  They weren’t leaving anything to chance.  

It seemed to me that the speeches in favour of the motion were much more impassioned than the ones against.  Nearly all of those in favour cited personal reasons for having an interest:  Earl Cathcart vapes at 2.4%, Lord Campbell-Savours had surgery to remove part of his lung, Lord Forsyth introduced his son to vaping.  The transcript for the debate is here and well worth reading .

The speeches against the motion were often sketchy on the detail of the vaping parts of the TRPR, or contained downright inaccuracies.   

 When Lord Forsyth challenged Baroness Hollins with:

“Can the noble Baroness explain why it is okay to advertise on the side of a bus but not in a newspaper?”

Baroness Hollins replied:

“I do not have an explanation for the kinds of advertising that have been approved, but some advertising is still permitted.”

In the unlikely event you are reading this Baroness Hollins: it’s advertising which could have cross border effects which isn’t permitted.  You can advertise to anyone (including children) all day long, on a billboard by the side of the road, but not to adults in a different EU member state.  Not knowing that level of detail could be read as being quite convenient.  

Lord Prior did the same thing later when challenged by Lord Forsyth on why eliquid needed to be singled out to be put into small bottles, unlike bleach etc:  “We cannot debate all the things the Lord mentioned”

This lack of detail was a common weakness in the arguments of those who opposed the motion. If you can’t discuss the finer points of where ecigs can be advertised, if you don’t properly address the options for leaving ecigs out of the legislation, if  you aren’t at all up to speed on current thinking on the toxicity and addictiveness of nicotine in vaping and your argument relies on the supposition that vaping will renormalise smoking, (an argument not supported by any credible study done to date) then you aren’t putting forward a strong case.  

Hopefully there will be a lengthy full debate in the House of Commons at some point so  MPs can  thoroughly scrutinise  it.   Brexit does give an opportunity for changing the TRPR,  and this was alluded to several times.  

Baroness Hollins had declared her interest as recent Chair of the Board of Science for the BMA, so we really shouldn’t have been surprised by her negative attitude to nicotine.  It does seem wrong though that the BMA seemingly aren’t aware that nicotine is not especially addictive in an ecig.  Baroness Walmsley too asserted in her speech that “nicotine vapour is very addictive”.  It seems unlikely that ASH have been propagating the myth that nicotine is highly toxic and addictive in ecigs – ASH doesn’t tend to misrepresent science- had other groups been lobbying against the motion too?  

Baroness Caithness, Lord Faulkner and Baroness Scone all raised the spectre of big evil tobacco controlling the vaping market. Ironically they were supporting regulations which will see off the smaller players and leave the field open for the bigger companies, including tobacco companies, as  Lord Callanan pointed out in his closing speech.   I thought it was a shame that Lord Campbell-Savours read out a letter from a vaping company when many of the points have been made in numerous letters sent by consumers – just seemed like it might have needlessly fuelled that particular fire.  

Disappointingly no speaker made mention of the exorbitant testing costs.  Also disappointing that no one made the point that vaping has been estimated to be between 95 and 99% safer than smoking;  i.e 95% is the most conservative estimate.  

Lord Faulkner’s  “ My concern over vaping is that it must not in any way re-normalise the smoking habit” was shared by most of the speakers who spoke against.  Other common themes:  absence of long term evidence, concerns about nicotine,  about tobacco companies  muscling in, concern that funding to Stop Smoking Services has been cut.  Only one peer called for ecigs to be “banned totally” 

 

There was a tangible positive outcome:  at the end, Lord Prior announced:


“The regulations will be reviewed within five years of entering into force. I also commit, here and now, to commissioning Public Health England to update its evidence report on e-cigarettes annually until the end of this Parliament and to include within its quit-smoking campaigns consistent messaging about the safety of e-cigarettes.”

 

Hopefully the government will be keeping a very close eye on potential unintended consequences of the legislation, eg rises in smoking rates and vape shop closures.   

 

It got very confusing at the end as there was a lot of movement in the chamber for the vote and many more Lords seemed to appear than had been present for the debate (though apparently the debate had been relatively well attended).   It seemed the government had whipped the Conservative lords to vote against the motion.  Lord Callanan withdrew his motion so only Lord Hunt’s amendment was voted on.  It was defeated by 91 to 57.  

It was time to go to the pub.  It had been a fascinating evening and, in some ways, a very positive one.    Vaping had been debated in the Houses of Parliament and had some very passionate champions in some of the peers. More representatives are aware of vaping now.  Lord Callanan deserves a lot of thanks for defying his party and bringing the motion against the government.  It was also a test of vapers’ strength –  Lord Callanan was encouraged to put  the motions forward because so many of you emailed and tweeted.  

 

 

 

 

 

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