Not Conservative

Not Conservative

So. It is happening. As most of us have always thought. You will, of course, remember (at least for the UK) the chatter about disposable vapes started gathering momentum with some commentary from a Green MSP and now the current “Conservative” Prime Minister has decided that his Government is going to implement a variety of measures for “A smoke-free generation”.

It would seem that Sunak has been taking lessons from former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in targeting, what is now, a highly stigmatised portion of society (albeit a slowly dwindling portion, thanks - of course - to the various anti-smoker policies introduced over the years; many of which had little to no direct impact).

At the recent Conservative Party Conference - a gathering of ‘Conservative’ illiberal prodnosery - Sunak announced that he is proposing a change to the law so that:

So I’m proposing changing the law so children turning 14 or younger this year can never legally be sold cigarettes in their lifetime. A smoke-free generation. None of us want our children to grow up to smoke.

Rishi Sunak, Twitter

Where have we heard about age-limiting tobacco sales before? Oh, that’s right. New Zealand. I’ve written before about simply raising the age of tobacco sales. Of course, as mentioned in that post, the age of purchase for tobacco was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007. You would think, of course, that by doing that those mischevious kids would stop buying. Right?

Wrong. Y’see, the Smoking Toolkit Study surveyed smoking prevalence in a variety of age groups from 2007. Can you guess what they discovered?

Smoking Toolkit Study - Top line findings -

In 2007, the prevalence in 16 - 17 year olds was 23%. In 2008 (approximately a year after the age of sale restrictions) it was 15.8%. It stayed around that figure until 2012 where it dropped to 13.6%. You’ll remember, of course, that it wasn’t just the age restrictions that were implemented in 2007, smoking was also banned in public places. A year or two later, graphic warnings were added to cigarette packs, followed by the tobacco duty escalator. All before 2012.

Since 2007 it has, therefore, been against the law to buy tobacco when underage (including proxy purchasing) but that small, minor, fact doesn’t seem to have deterred youth smokers in the slightest. As with the debacle of Tobacco-21 in the US, the insane idea in NZ to implement an “age escalator”, the UK has decided to follow the daftest of ideas that will achieve, to be generous, a very minor reduction in prevalence.

Of course, the usual suspects are applauding this plan announcement:

To think that Ms Cheeseman is concerned about inequality when ASH are the biggest drivers of wealth inequality by continuing to bang on about raising the cost of smoking - not to mention their pet project of a “polluter pays” levy - is some stunning ignorance.

Of course, the celebration of this ridiculous idea isn’t just limited to the anti-smoker zealots with their collective noses stuck in the public purse, it also includes politicians:

There’s much wrong with this thread.

We will not criminalise smoking at any age. But the key is to stop young people starting.

Uh, isn’t that what the 2007 age restrictions were meant to do?

Not to mention that the “lost productivity” figures (and costs to the State Religion NHS) is incredibly dubious. But, why let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good narrative?

What makes this announcement really daft is Sunak is also proposing to ban disposable vapes. Imagine that for a second. Remember, disposable vapes are often, almost exclusively, sold in supermarkets, corner shops and convenience stores rather than dedicated vape shops. There may be a few vape shops that sell them, but that’ll be a rarity.

There has been, and continues to be a crusade against underage sale of vaping products yet, as always, those with the levers of power forget some simple facts. Young people experiment. Thing is, disposable vapes are a great stepping stone for those that want to try vaping. Costing less than a pack of smokes and being widely available is a very good thing.

There’s also another factor that is rarely, if ever, considered: emergency replacements. Most vapers will be sensible enough to carry either a portable battery pack, or have access to a charger for their device. Sometimes, however, that isn’t possible (or, if you are anything like me, you simply forget) so grabbing a disposable vape for around £6 is a great stop-gap. Not to mention that the disposables have come a very long way and are actually pretty good both in terms of flavour and experience. I’m not the only one with a view like this:

In my view, there’s two key issues surrounding disposables:

  • Environmental (trash/rubbish)
  • Youth access

Youth access is already, supposedly, illegal with the current restrictions. All that is needed there is better enforcement of the law and, dare I say it, some actual training for staff in the stores that sell them. I guess I’d better refer to my usual caveat post about youth here - just so folk are clear on my views about youth vaping.

Disposing of a disposable vape in the correct manner is the one that needs tackling in a proportionate way instead of simply banning them. For instance, the stores could have a “used disposable vape” container where users can deposit their spent devices safely instead of roadside bins or, heaven forbid, the street itself. Some could even offer incentives to encourage users to do that - a discount off their next vape purchase from the store - true that would mean increasing the cost of disposables to cover this, but as cigarette prices continue to increase disposable vapes will still be cheaper.

Local authorities could invest in some roadside battery disposal bins (some supermarkets in the UK already have something like this) and some authorities have a battery collection service in place already.

But, no, it is easier to just ban things and it gets celebrated by the worst kind of people. These policy announcements are not only hideously illiberal and far from being conservative, it will create a society where adults will buy cigarettes from slightly older adults and will, no doubt, inflate the black market even further. These policies, as with every other policy created to “curb smoking” will immediately be branded as “not going far enough”.

Tell me, is this about health?