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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 26, 2024


Smoking and Vaping

The next item if business is a statement by Jenni Minto on working towards a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034 and tackling youth vaping.


The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

In Scotland, more than 8,000 lives a year are cut short by diseases that are caused by smoking. Large parts of the harm that is caused by cancers, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease are caused by smoking—harm that is entirely preventable. I have personal experience of that harm with one of my grandparents, who was advised to stop smoking just before I was born. He was told that, if he did not stop, he would not live to see his grandchild. Thankfully, he did, and I have 16 years of precious memories.

We want to make it easier for people never to start smoking. Scotland has a range of world-leading tobacco control measures. In March 2006 this was the first Parliament in the United Kingdom to introduce a ban on smoking in indoor places and, 18 years later, smoking rates are at an all-time low and cigarette smoking among children and young people is at its lowest level in 32 years. But still, on average one person in Scotland dies every 63 minutes from a tobacco-related illness. We must continue to take action to ensure that people in Scotland live longer healthier lives.

I take this opportunity to extend my deepest sympathy to all those affected by the loss of a loved one, friend or colleague through smoking, who remind us how essential it is that we continue to take action to reduce the prevalence of smoking. Although there has been a reduction in tobacco use, there has been a notable increase in people, particularly young people, using vapes. The “Health Behaviour in School-aged Children” Scotland 2022 survey found that almost one in five young people reported having used a vape at least once in their lifetime. Though vape products are one of a range of tools that can be used to support smoking cessation, they should never be used by young people or adult non-smokers. The long-term harms of these products are unknown, and we must remain cautious even if recent evidence shows their effectiveness as a cessation tool.

Our tobacco and vaping framework was launched last November and sets out the road map to our 2034 target of a tobacco-free Scotland. A key strand of the framework is the work that has taken place across the four nations on creating a tobacco-free generation and tackling youth vaping. I am pleased to be able to update members on that work today.

The four-nations consultation response was published on 29 January. There was a strong response from residents in Scotland, representing 11 per cent of the nearly 28,000 responses that were received. The majority of responses supported proposals to create a tobacco-free generation. Respondents were also mostly in favour of the proposed measures to tackle youth vaping, particularly by restricting point-of-sale displays and packaging, although, as expected, there was a mix of views on how best to do that.

I thank everyone who responded to the consultation, including those from public health, retail organisations and local authorities. A United Kingdom-wide bill has now been introduced in the UK Parliament, which will take UK-wide measures to change the age of sale for all tobacco products, cigarette papers and herbal smoking products, so that anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 will never legally be sold those products.

The bill will also amend existing legislation to make it an offence for anyone over 18 to purchase products on behalf of those born on or after 1 January 2009. We have also listened to the views of our stakeholders, and the bill will amend our current legislation to remove existing provisions that make it an offence for a person under 18 to purchase tobacco products. That will ensure that, in line with the rest of the UK, no one is criminalised for their addiction to nicotine. I stress, however, that it remains an offence to sell these products to persons below the age of sale, and retailers will still be required to operate an age verification policy.

The bill introduces powers for Scottish ministers to make provision about tobacco warning notices and to regulate retail displays of vapes and other nicotine products, and it extends existing provisions that are applicable to vapes to other nicotine products, such as nicotine pouches. The bill also introduces powers for the secretary of state to make UK-wide regulations—importantly, with consent from Scottish ministers—regarding the flavours, contents, retail packaging and other product requirements of vapes. As the bill makes provisions that would be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, we will shortly bring forward a legislative consent memorandum for consideration by this Parliament.

The results of the UK-wide consultation also showed overwhelming support among individuals in Scotland for a ban on the sale and supply of disposable vapes. We are the first Government in the UK to commit to taking action on single-use vapes, as well as the first to publish draft regulations to ban their sale and supply. The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity published draft regulations on 23 January and consulted on those until 8 March 2024. The general public and businesses will be able to comment on the final version of the proposal and associated impact assessments during a further six-week consultation, which launches in April 2024. A ban is proposed to come into force on 1 April 2025. I am working closely with Ms Slater to ensure that any potential health impacts of a ban are carefully considered. Members have discussed that in the chamber previously, and I welcome those measures.

The UK Government has already set out its intention to consult further on the UK-wide powers to regulate flavours, contents, retail packaging and other product requirements of vapes. We will continue to work collaboratively with the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive as the consultation develops, to ensure, as far as possible, that measures are implemented in a consistent manner across the UK. The Scottish Government will also consult further on powers relating to retail displays of vapes.

Our world-leading measures to increase the age for the sale of tobacco are designed to protect future generations and to create a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034. We want to make it easier for people never to start smoking. It is much easier never to start smoking tobacco or vaping than it is to give them up.

Although this statement is an update following the introduction of UK-wide legislation, it forms part of a wider package of measures that are designed to ensure that we hit our 2034 target and reduce levels of vaping among young people and non-smokers. Under our tobacco and vaping framework, we are progressing actions on existing powers to introduce regulations under our Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016, and we are working to improve our existing tobacco and nicotine vapour product register.

Our “Take hold” marketing campaign aims to educate parents, carers and children about the dangers of vaping and to increase awareness of the harms of nicotine addiction. It has been a huge success, with 84 per cent of campaign recognisers taking action as a result of seeing the campaign. I was delighted to see the “Take hold” adverts used at Sunday’s Scottish Women’s Premier League cup final, which I had the pleasure of attending. The Rangers and Partick Thistle teams and their supporters created a great atmosphere. We have to remember how important those players are as role models.

I am grateful for the opportunity to provide an update on the bold action that is being taken in Scotland and in partnership with Governments across the four nations to protect public health. Those measures are central to our framework, and they represent an opportunity to make a significant generational impact on the future health of Scotland. All the UK’s living chief medical officers and deputy chief medical officers past and present strongly urge members of Parliament from all political parties to support those measures. In the words of Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, Dr Ian Walker,

“This legislation is a critical step on the road to creating the first generation free of tobacco, the biggest cause of cancer.”

I will finish with words from our Children’s Parliament that illustrate its ambition to live in a healthier Scotland free from addiction. It said:

“If change happened, it would affect our life and make it better.”

I hope that colleagues in the chamber will continue to be engaged in this important work, heed the words of our Children’s Parliament and help us to achieve our ambition of a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034.

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

I declare an interest as a practising national health service general practitioner. I also declare that I have never smoked cigarettes or vaped.

It is important that the public are clear on where we stand in deliberating policy on addictive substances. The number of children who use vapes has tripled in the past three years, and the bulk of that increase has been driven by disposables. The evidence is clear that vapes should not be used by or targeted at children due to the risks and unknown harms involved.

We know that children as young as eight are addicted to nicotine in vapes. They crave for their next vape and are distracted. They cannot concentrate or do their school work until they satisfy their cravings. Children who need that extra hit, the higher strength, a particular flavour or a particular colour are going to get their hands on a vape, even if that means shoplifting.

It is now thought that vapes are not that harmless. A new University College London study has found that vaping causes changes to DNA in mouth cells in a way that is similar to how lung cancer appears.

We support smokers changing to vapes and a smoke-free generation. We need a modern, efficient and local NHS that prioritises prevention. Will the minister back our calls to bring vaping legislation in line with tobacco legislation and make it illegal to vape indoors? What concrete action will the minister take to ensure that our children do not vape?

Jenni Minto

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill will provide the Government with new powers to introduce full restrictions to reduce the appeal and availability of all vapes and other nicotine products to children. That will include future limits on flavours, where and how vapes can be displayed in shops, and how vapes are packaged. We do not want to see any unintended consequences for adult smoking rates, so the scope of the restrictions needs to be carefully considered and we need to apply them proportionately. I agree that we do not want our young children to be vaping—we have been working closely with young children, and they give me that message too.

With regard to powers for regulation, ministers need the flexibility to enable them to monitor and adjust regulations following implementation, and it will be necessary to gain further evidence to ensure that we do that in the right way.

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement. Scottish Labour, as the party that led the way with the introduction of the smoking ban, will fully support legislation that we hope will lead to the creation of a tobacco-free generation and a tobacco-free Scotland. It is welcome that the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party have come to support Labour’s long-standing position that banning single-use vapes is critical in tackling youth vaping, in the interests of both young people’s health and the environment in which they exist.

Given that Cancer Research UK notes in its briefing ahead of today’s statement that the aim to deliver a smoke-free Scotland by 2034 is well off track, what plans can the minister set out, over and above those that she outlined in her statement, for getting that back on track? Given that vaping legislation is not expected to be implemented for more than a year, can she set out what preparatory and preventative work with our young people will take place between now and then?

Jenni Minto

I remember clearly when the ban on smoking in enclosed places came into force. The strength of that legislation was that it was the result of cross-party agreement, and Stewart Maxwell of the SNP was also involved in the process. How we work together is also one of our strengths with regard to this bill. We have been working with the Administrations in London, Cardiff and Belfast, so I feel very positive about that. We have also had great support from our chief medical officers to ensure that we are doing the right thing.

More details will be provided in the LCM when it is laid before Parliament. A lot of the work that we have done in preparing for the bill has involved young people at different stages—for example, I referred to the Children’s Parliament. We have to remember that the future of our children, and the need to ensure that they have the healthier lifestyle that they want, is at the heart of the legislation.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, in that I hold a bank-nurse contract with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

We know that smoking is the leading preventable cause of health inequalities, which have only grown starker in the midst of more than a decade of Tory-imposed austerity. Can the minister outline what work the Scottish Government is doing to support people to stop smoking, in particular in those areas where economic and health inequalities are most prevalent?

Jenni Minto

Claire Haughey is absolutely right. Despite the significant reduction since 2003, it is concerning the adults who live in the most deprived areas are still more likely to be current smokers. Smoking contributes significantly to Scotland’s unfair and unjust health inequalities, as both a cause and an effect. Smoking cessation services are essential to ensuring that people have access to the right support at the right time to quit smoking or vaping, and we are committed to work with our NHS cessation co-ordinators and pharmacy colleagues across Scotland to refocus and remobilise cessation services to ensure that we reach those in our communities who are in most need of support to quit.

Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

In 2022, around 12 per cent of women smoked during pregnancy. The minister mentioned that her own grandparent was advised to stop smoking. We know that smoking when pregnant can have serious health risks, but we also know how difficult it can be to stop. In England, midwives and NHS staff helped almost 15,000 mums-to-be to quit smoking over a three-year period. Will the minister ensure that midwives in Scotland have the resources to support pregnant women to kick the habit?

Jenni Minto

I agree with Tess White that it is important to get pregnant women to stop smoking. We are very clear in our best start guidelines and in other literature online about the importance of smoking cessation. Our midwives and nurse family partnerships also support women in that respect.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

As co-convener of the cross-party group on lung health, I recently heard from a mother about how her school-aged daughter has experienced anxiety, agitation, aggression, depression and a shortage of breath since starting to vape. She has also missed school. What further steps can be taken to minimise the health impacts of youth vaping?

Jenni Minto

I am sorry to hear about the effects that vaping has had on that young person; I have heard of similar situations in my constituency. Children and young people may not fully understand the risks and implications of using vaping devices or be able to make informed decisions. Our “Take hold” campaign is terribly important in that regard, as it is directed at parents and carers, and it aims to provide advice and helps them to understand the risks relating to vaping addictions. I met some fathers who were discussing with me the conversations that they feel that they need to have with their children about vaping. That is one of the areas of work that we are doing that will help with that.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank climate activist Laura Young and others, including the Daily Record, for their successful campaign to ban disposable vapes. However, as we know, refillable vapes will still be available. Earlier today, I met pupils from Peebles high school, and secondary 1 pupil Jess highlighted that disposable vapes are clearly marketed in her direction through packaging, flavours and shop displays.

Does the minister accept that, unless action is taken on the marketing of vapes, companies are likely to turn their attention to using the same marketing techniques for refillable vapes, which would undermine the effectiveness of any ban on disposable vapes?

Jenni Minto

I recognise the concerns that Colin Smyth has raised. The powers in the UK Tobacco and Vapes Bill will allow regulations to be introduced on the flavours and packaging of vapes, but I absolutely understand his point about vapes being colourful and the flavours child-friendly. We feel that the legislation really needs to address those points in order to reduce the impacts of vapes on young children.

I am happy to have a conversation with Colin Smyth to hear about the examples that he has raised.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Although vaping can be a useful tool for those who are looking to quit smoking, the number of young people who are starting to vape is of concern, as the minister said in her statement. Will the minister expand on the work that has been done to educate young people about the impact of vaping and the risks of smoking?

Jenni Minto

Our most recent behaviour in Scottish schools research, which was published last November, identified that vaping is an increasing problem in our schools. We are concerned about the extent of vaping that is being reported and the impact that it is having on young people’s attendance in class.

We are working with partners and the Scottish advisory group on relationships and behaviour in schools to consider what further action is needed to support schools to address vaping as part of the development of the national action plan on relationships and behaviour and our tobacco and vaping framework.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I inform members that my two sons attend the Royal high school in my constituency.

We have a serious problem when it comes to youth vaping in Scotland. As we have heard, 22 per cent of under-18s used a vape last year. I am glad that the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with a ban on disposable vapes, which we know are deliberately targeted at young people. However, a ban will not come in until next April, and action is needed now.

The Royal high school has led the way in tackling this escalating problem by installing special smoke detectors in the toilets of its school at the start of this month, which are already working as a deterrent. I thank the parents association and senior management at the school in particular for leading the campaign and for garnering national interest. What plans are in place to support schools such as the Royal high school in tackling the issue as a matter of urgency, and why is there such a delay in the roll-out of the ban?

Jenni Minto

I reflect on the positivity that I felt when I saw this morning’s BBC Scotland news page, which highlighted the decisions that the Royal high school of Edinburgh has taken.

As I said, as part of the development of the national action plan on relationships, which will be published in the spring, we are working with partners in SAGRABIS to consider what further action is needed to support schools to address vaping. It is up to individual local authorities to work with schools to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to deal with incidents of substance use, but we are taking forward substance use education work in our schools through the curriculum for excellence.

I would be interested to know whether other local authorities get in touch with the Royal high school of Edinburgh to see how it established the work that it has been doing.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

We know that disposable vapes pose environmental risks, both as an eyesore through littering and as a harm through fires in waste facilities. How can local authorities be supported in managing the safe disposal of, and the waste management associated with, single-use vapes?

Jenni Minto

When I visited Sunnyside primary school in Alloa earlier this year, the children made the point that their spaces, including their play parks, are being overtaken by bins that are overflowing with disposable vapes.

I agree that the safe disposal of vapes is a matter for local authorities. As part of our proposals to ban single-use vapes, the Government will work closely with trading standards offices to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to enforce the measures.

Gillian Mackay (Central Scotland) (Green)

I have been campaigning on this issue alongside parents, young people, clinicians, health charities and the Daily Record. They are all really pleased with the announcement on banning single-use vapes, and I thank them for their support.

Before the ban comes into place, we need to reduce the potential harm to young people’s health, and I believe that some of that work can be done by retailers. Will the minister join me and campaigners in looking at how we can quickly get products behind cover by encouraging all retailers that consider themselves to be responsible retailers to put the products behind cover voluntarily?

Jenni Minto

I reflect on the market research that I read about secret shoppers of a young age going out to buy cigarettes. As they were so used to the products being behind grey blinds, they had to have it explained to them what cigarettes and cigarette packages looked like. I am very happy to support Ms Mackay’s suggestion about retailers making that decision themselves.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

In her statement, the minister talked about a tobacco and vaping framework and about improving the existing register of tobacco and nicotine vapour product retailers. Nations such as the Netherlands take a more concise approach to the issue: all fruity flavours and aromas that might appeal to young people and those who are new to the habit are banned, and only tobacco flavours are allowed. Is the Scottish Government considering such measures under the tobacco and vaping framework?

Jenni Minto

I gently point out to Alexander Stewart that it is helpful and important to have the register of tobacco and nicotine vapour product retailers, because that allows us to pinpoint exactly which retailers sell vapes. Of the four nations of the UK, we are the only one that has such a register, and it is important that we invest in it to ensure that it covers the whole area.

In my statement, I touched on flavours. When I met members of the Children’s Parliament, I heard about the conflict between what is healthy and what is not—for example, a watermelon-flavoured vape versus a watermelon. That highlights the importance of getting the legislation right. It is right to take a four-nations approach to the issue, because that will mean that there will be consistency and that there will be no issues as a result of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020.

David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

We know that, traditionally, it has proven difficult to engage with adolescents and young adults when it comes to health-related matters. We now have increased opportunities to reach that age group through various social media platforms. What social media engagement has taken place to increase awareness of the harms and risks of vaping addiction?

Jenni Minto

I have already talked about the “Take hold” marketing campaign, which was on various social media platforms, as well as—for us oldies—radio. The voice of young people is absolutely at the heart of the legislation and our tobacco and vaping framework. We ensure that, when we put out messages, we do so in collaboration with young people.

I will also mention that the Northern Ireland Government is considering our “Take hold” campaign and is looking to introduce it in Northern Ireland.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I welcome the recognition that vaping is a significant health issue in Scotland, the UK and further afield. I put it on record that, if I had my way, I would give access to vaping only through prescriptions. However, access to a healthier lifestyle is the other side of the equation. What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that our children have access to a healthier lifestyle, and how will it encourage them to adopt such a lifestyle?

Jenni Minto

To reflect again on my visit to Sunnyside primary school in Alloa, the children told me that, when doing creative writing, if they write for a while and then go out for a bit and get a bit of exercise and fresh air, their brain cells are reinvigorated. It is important to ensure that, as well as banning vapes, we recognise the importance of sport.

As I highlighted in my statement, it is wonderful to be in collaboration with Scottish women’s football. I mentioned that our advert was shown at a match on Sunday. Those footballers are fantastic role models for our children, which is absolutely key to ensuring that the message of healthy living and exercise is put out there. It was great to see so many supporters of the Rangers and Partick Thistle teams cheering on the two teams.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

The minister mentioned nicotine pouches in her statement. They are currently not regulated as tobacco products, because they do not contain tobacco, and they are being sold over the counter to children and young people under the age of 18. When the minister brings forward regulations under the powers that the Scottish ministers will have, will she please prioritise the regulation and licensing of the sale of nicotine pouches?

As I said, we have worked closely with the UK Government to ensure that the legislation is right and that it is future proofed. As I said, we will bring an LCM to the chamber, which will lay out more detail.

That concludes the ministerial statement. There will be a brief pause before we move on to the next item of business.