Daisy Cooper’s speech in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill debate

Here is the full speech from Daisy Cooper this afternoon, in the debate on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill in the House of Commons. Daisy is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health and Social Care and our Deputy Leader:

First, I want to put on record my thanks to the public health Minister the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) and the chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty, who spent time answering my questions and those of some of my colleagues. It was a very collegiate exercise and I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. It would be good to see more of that.

The Government proposals on vapes are an absolute no-brainer and are consistent with Liberal Democrat party policy that was adopted at our conference last year, including the ban on single-use vapes on environmental grounds. Parents and teachers in St Albans are particularly concerned about the insidious marketing of vapes to young people: the colours, flavours and packaging are designed to appeal to children. Earlier in the debate the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) talked about children gathering in toilets, desperate to use their vapes. I am aware, unfortunately, of one example in my constituency where children have gathered in toilets not just to use the vapes but to take them apart to use as containers for smuggling in more dangerous substances, thereby using the vapes as a new gateway drug. I therefore entirely support the Government’s proposals on the regulation of vapes.

The question of a so-called smoking ban on those aged 15 and younger, stopping them being sold cigarettes, is not so straightforward, however. For Liberal Democrats there will be a free vote on this Bill; there are some good liberal arguments to be made both for and against it. I will be supporting the measures in the Bill, but some of my colleagues have remaining liberal and practical concerns. For example, in 30 years’ time how does somebody prove they are 46 and not 45 without a driver’s licence or a passport? How can we prevent abuse at retailers, too? I hope the Government will be providing more reassurances to colleagues on these issues.

Intervention from Sammy Wilson
(East Antrim) (DUP)
Does the hon. Member accept that that difficulty puts the onus on the retailer, who is meant to distinguish between a 45-year-old and a 46-year-old, and if they do not do that or they do so incorrectly, they could find themselves faced with a fine? Is that fair?

Daisy Cooper:
Colleagues across the House have genuine concerns about that point. I know from engagements in my constituency that a number of retailers already suffer attacks when challenging people wishing to buy other age-related products, so I hope the Government will offer reassurances about what they intend to do to tackle that.

As I have said, I will be supporting the measures in this Bill, but coming to that decision was a bit of a journey for me. My first reaction on hearing of the Bill before it was published was indignation, because the measures are just a drop in the ocean in terms of what is needed to tackle cancer. One in two of us will get cancer at some point, yet the Government have missed their targets to provide fast cancer treatment every year since 2015 and have dropped their 10-year cancer plan. What we need is research in rare cancers, outdated cancer scanners updated, cancer nurses and efforts to tackle waiting times. It would perhaps have been better if the measures in this Bill had been a single clause in a much broader Bill. To be honest, I am frustrated that so much energy is going into this Bill, which could be described as low-hanging fruit, rather than into producing a much more ambitious plan to tackle cancer more broadly. We need to see more ambition in this area.

My second reaction was the raising of my liberal hackles. Liberals are not libertarians; we do not object to all bans. Liberals support bans as a last resort, but not as a first lever. The situation here is frustrating, however: it is a bit rich that the Government are bringing this Bill forward when they have simultaneously been slashing public health budgets, including for smoking cessation programmes, since 2015. Even with the new money the Government have put into smoking cessation programmes, the funds still fall far short of 2015 levels. We also know that smoking rates among young people have dropped very quickly; they are now down to 1% and continue to drop.

Liberals do sometimes back bans when a particular product or practice causes excessive harm, and that is why I have decided to back this ban. Fundamentally, I asked myself a simple question: is this going to help reduce the overwhelming harm caused by the significantly dangerous and addictive practice of smoking?

The answer is yes, it is. We know that smoking is dangerous and highly addictive. We know that smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer, causing around one in four cancer deaths, including 64,000 in England alone. We know that 75,000 GP appointments each month are taken up by smoking-related illness. We know that smoking costs the economy £17 billion a year through smoking-related lost earnings, unemployment and early death. We know that it comes at enormous cost to our NHS, and we know that smoking rates in pregnancy vary hugely, with as many as 20% of pregnant women smoking in some parts of the country, increasing the chance of stillbirth by almost 50%. That is an incredibly stark health inequality.

Some people have suggested it could be contradictory for a liberal to support a ban on tobacco for 15-year-olds and younger while wanting to legalise cannabis, but let me say to them that they are wrong. It is entirely consistent for a liberal to want to make harmful products illegal—harmful products such as nicotine in cigarettes, skunk and products with high THC levels that can cause psychosis—while simultaneously wanting to have a legal regulated market for less harmful products such as vapes for nicotine and cannabis products with low and regulated THC levels.

In conclusion, do I think this measure is the first or best thing that the Government should be doing to tackle cancer? No. Do I think this measure is particularly ambitious? No. But do I think it is a useful step that will help us to tackle the dangerous health impacts of smoking addiction, to improve population health and to take pressure off the NHS? Personally, I do.

* News Meerkat - keeping a look-out for Liberal Democrat news. Meerkat photo by Paul Walter

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This entry was posted in Parliament.


  • I think this is a very good articulation of why Daisy voted the way she did.

    Personally I’m still not convinced – if the public health grounds are sufficient for a ban, given the huge difficulties and age based ban will face (especially in ten years’ time once it starts feeling really arbitrary), why not go for an outright ban? And how do we prevent it becoming a lucrative new income stream for smugglers and gangs? Etc.

  • Peter Martin 17th Apr '24 - 8:12am

    Sir Humphry wouldn’t approve!

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