Tobacco and Vapes Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Local Government Association (LGA) (TVB11)

Tobacco and Vapes Bill

About the Local Government Association (LGA)

The LGA is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government.

We are a politically led, cross-party organisation that works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils, so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems.

Tobacco and Vapes Bill

The LGA are fully supportive of the Government’s smokefree generation ambitions, which will improve the life chances of people across the country. We are also broadly supportive of the measures set to be introduced in the Government’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill.

Local government has consistently been a leader in tackling the harms caused by smoking, whether that is pushing for a ban on smoking in public places or funding local council Stop Smoking services. Smoking remains one of the leading causes of preventable ill health, disability and death in England, and this creates additional pressures on our health and care systems and affects the quality of life for some in our local communities.

In England, local government has had responsibility for stop smoking services and local tobacco control since 2013. Councillors and officers recognise the harm that smoking inflicts on their communities and the importance of continuing to drive down smoking prevalence. Local councils have sustained their support for smokers to quit and many have developed innovative approaches to reduce the harm of tobacco on their local communities.

Local councils have exploited their strengths to reduce local smoking rates. Their reach into communities has helped in tackling the stark inequalities that characterise the population of smokers, such as the stubbornly high smoking prevalence in low income and disadvantaged communities. Their relationships across communities have helped to build partnerships with the capacity to tackle the harms of tobacco on multiple fronts: supporting smokers to quit, communicating with local people to deter new smokers and encourage smokers to quit, reducing the illicit trade, creating smoke-free public spaces and promoting harm reduction approaches.

Part 1 – Section 1: Sale of tobacco etc

The LGA supports the Government’s progressive move to raise the legal age of sale for tobacco products. The policy will have a positive impact on smoking prevalence and will ultimately reduce rates of smoking-related death and disease. Equally, raising the legal age for tobacco purchase has been shown to reduce the likelihood of young people starting to smoke.

Acknowledging nicotine's highly addictive nature, restricting tobacco access for those born after January 1, 2009, aims to prevent lifelong addiction, particularly among young individuals, breaking the cycle of addiction in adulthood.

Part 1 – Sections 19-32: Enforcement functions

The success of the new legislation will be dependent upon the ability to enforce it, and it is therefore crucial that adequate powers, funding and resources are dedicated towards this. The LGA supports strict enforcement measures and tough penalties for selling tobacco and e-cigarettes to those underage .

Trading Standards

Local authority trading standards teams have seen a significant reduction to core budgets over recent years, and continue to face acute staff shortages, whilst also seeing the number of enforcement responsibilities increase through new legislation on a range of different Government priorities.

More than a decade of cuts have  left Trading Standards departments overstretched, facing an ever-rising tide of consumer complaints and an ever-growing list of enforcement responsibilities. The number of laws Trading Standards is responsible for enforcing and advising on is almost 300. Individual departments will be carefully considering which responsibilities are of the highest priority based on local intelligence and need.

The Government should be clear on what additional funding is set to be made available to Trading Standards departments to enforce these important regulations. Greater funding is critical, particularly as we are aware of capacity and workforce issues within Trading Standards teams. When the Bill comes into effect, Trading Standards teams will be under increased pressures to enforce the new regulation. The Government must provide clarity on this as soon as reasonably possible, in order to give Trading Standards departments  the best chance to build capacity and plan for the Bill’s introduction. Capacity and workforce issues should be continually monitored and reviewed to ensure the Bill is effectively enforced.

The LGA also calls on the government to boost the future pipeline of qualified trading standards officers through a dedicated apprenticeship fund, investing in regional support networks, and enabling councils to recover regulatory service costs.

Part 1 – Section 24: Fixed Penalties

Councils should be able to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs), and further consideration should be given to being able to issue fines on a scale in accordance with the issues identified, for example number of under-age sales, age of recipient and the number of times the retailer broke the rules. The use of FPNs is quicker and cheaper to administer and will reduce pressure on the courts. FPNs are a welcomed part of the enforcement toolkit but may not be appropriate in all circumstances. This builds on a maximum £2,500 fine that local authorities can already impose on retailers through the Magistrates.

Part 1 – Section 24 (1): There should be a clear separation in terms of the FPN issued between sales by businesses and proxy purchase by individuals, and the size of the FPN.

Part 1 – Section 24 (3) line 14: The LGA believes that the amount specified in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill (£100) falls significantly short of making a FPN an effective deterrent. We therefore call on the Government to raise this should a person be caught committing an offence under the provisions set out in Section 24 (1) lines 6-10. Increasing fines would also retain some deterrence even in instances where those issued a FPN pay the amount within the period of 14 days (Section 24 (6) subsection (B) (ii) lines 29-30).

Where required, there should be the possibility of using the higher fines and stronger sentences which are available to the courts to act as a clear deterrent to retailers who flout the rules. It is also important action is taken to tackle the online supply of vaping products. It would assist councils if there was a body that could take the appropriate enforcement action.

The issuing and cost of fines should be consistent across the various categories of products referenced within the Bill.

Part 1 – Section 25 Fixed Penalties: use of proceeds: The LGA supports the proposed use of proceeds as set out under this section. Funds that enable greater enforcement action to be taken will increase the effectiveness of this Bill.

Apply mandatory age verification, in line with Scotland

"Challenge 25" and 'No ID, No Sale' are long running policies created to support retailers who are doing their job by enforcing the law on age restricted sales. Under the voluntary scheme, customers attempting to buy age-restricted products are asked to prove their age if in the retailer's opinion they look under 25.

These initiatives make it much easier for retail staff to ‘challenge’ customers who are potentially under the age of 18 without being seen as confrontational. Modern tills already include point of sale software to make it easier for retailers to carry out their ‘due diligence’ checks before selling age-appropriate products.

The LGA recommends that the Tobacco and Vapes Bill be amended to apply mandatory age verification, in line with the provisions set out for Scotland in the Bill, to all the nations of the United Kingdom.

In Scotland mandatory age verification has been a legal requirement for tobacco and vapes since 2017. The Scottish legislation provides a legal underpinning to the voluntary "Challenge 25" scheme which operates in the rest of the United Kingdom. We believe a voluntary scheme like Challenge 25 can be inconsistent in its application, leaving customers unsure about whether or not they will need to provide proof of age.

Ensuring consistency in the application of age verification is just as important for the other nations of the United Kingdom as it is for Scotland.

Raising the age of sale to 21 (Giles Wattling MP  amendment)

The LGA believes that the Government’s approach to the age of sale, set out in clause 1 of the Bill, is the most appropriate in creating a smokefree generation.

Part 1 – Sections 7-11: E-cigarettes

While research has shown vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking, it is deeply worrying that more and more children – who have never smoked – are starting vaping. A 2023 survey from ASH found that the proportion of 11- to 17-year-olds in the UK  who stated they were current users more than doubled from 3.3 per cent in 2021 to 7.6 per cent in 2023, while those trying vaping once or twice increased by 50 per cent compared to 2022. 

Many local areas have noted an increase in shops selling vapes to young people, and subsequently have stepped up enforcement activity to deal with the issue. The marketing of vapes to children is utterly unacceptable. The LGA has been calling for all vaping products to be subject to the same rules as cigarettes - sold in plain packaging and kept out of reach and sight of children behind shop counters.

Part 4 – Section 61-63: We welcome the Government’s measures to restrict the availability and marketing of vapes to children. Their colours, flavours and advertising are appealing to children and are a risk to the health of young people.

Black market concerns

We do not remember a single tobacco control measure (smokefree public places, point of sale display, vending machine ban, increasing the age of sale to eighteen, standard packaging, ban on menthol flavoured cigarettes) where the tobacco industry did not say that it would lead to an increase in illicit trade.

Illicit activity is a criminal activity. Criminals will trade whatever brings most profit and least penalty (drugs, tobacco, illicit vapes) and the key to tackling the illicit market is strengthened enforcement.

April 2024


Prepared 2nd May 2024