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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Northern Ireland included in consultation to create smokefree generation and clampdown on vapes

Young girl vaping standing against brick wall

Northern Ireland's Department of Health has today confirmed that the province will be included in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's consultation across the UK on proposals to create the first smokefree generation and crack down on youth vaping.

Last week, the Prime Minister unveiled plans to introduce a new law to stop children who turn 14 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, in a bid to create the first ‘smokefree generation’.

Proposals being consulted on include:

• Making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products

•.Restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that vape flavours are no longer targeted at children – we want to ensure this is done in a way that continues to support adult smokers to switch

• Regulating point of sale displays in retail outlets so that vapes are kept out of sight from children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets

• Regulating vape packaging and product presentation, ensuring that neither the device nor its packaging is targeted to children

• Considering restricting the sale of disposable vapes, which are clearly linked to the rise in vaping in children. These products are not only attractive to children but also incredibly harmful to the environment

• Exploring further restrictions for non-nicotine vapes and other nicotine consumer products such as nicotine pouches

• Exploring whether increasing the price of vapes will reduce the number of young people using them

• Introducing new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines (Fixed Penalty Notices) to enforce age of sale legislation of tobacco products and vapes

A spokesperson for Northern Ireland's Department of Health stated:

"The Department of Health has a long-standing strategic aim for a tobacco-free Northern Ireland.

Important strides forward have been made including a reduction in smoking prevalence, with adult smoking rates here falling from 24% to 17% over the last 11 years.

"However, a recent review of our tobacco control strategy highlighted several remaining challenges, not least the continued preventable premature death and ill-health caused by smoking.

"Approximately 2,200 people die each year in Northern Ireland from smoking related conditions.

To help inform future decision-making on tobacco policy and legislation, the Department has agreed that NI will be included in the public consultation launched today by the Prime Minister.

"This eight-week UK-wide consultation will cover proposals to make it illegal for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to ever be sold tobacco products at any point in their lives. The consultation will also include a series of proposals to clamp down on the sale and use of vapes by children and young people including restrictions on flavours, display, packaging and disposable vapes.

"Comments in response to the public consultation are welcome from anyone, of any age, in Northern Ireland.

"The outcome of this consultation will help inform decisions of incoming NI Ministers and the Executive, or in the absence of Ministers, those decisions that can be taken under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act 2022."

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England said:

"Smoking causes cancers, heart and lung disease, stroke, stillbirth and dementia. Ensuring people do not become addicted to smoking, and helping them overcome addiction to stop smoking are two the best interventions for health.

"Vaping is less dangerous than smoking but still has risks and can cause addiction. Vaping can be useful for smokers to quit, but should not be marketed to non-smokers and marketing them to children is utterly unacceptable."

Selling vapes to children is already illegal, but it is clear from recent statistics that vapes are too often targeted at children with the promotion of cheap, colourful and sweet flavours commonplace. This is despite the addictive nature of nicotine and the long term harms of vapes being unknown. Nicotine vapes in particular can be highly addictive and withdrawal causes anxiety, trouble concentrating and headaches.

Recent figures show the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled, with 20.5% of children aged between 11 and 17 having tried vaping in 2023, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Similar trends are reflected globally, including in Canada and New Zealand. Use amongst younger children is also rising, with 9% of 11- to 15-year-olds reportedly using vapes, according to a 2021 survey by NHS Digital.

Commenting on the initiative, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said:

"We’re pleased that the UK Government’s consultation into youth vaping and smoking has launched. Preventing young people from taking up vaping is an area that needs stronger regulation, and we look forward to responding.

"But it’s important to remember that based on current evidence, vaping is far less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and can help people to quit. The government is right to consider how any changes will impact people who use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool."

Teenagers, parents, teachers, medical professionals, academic experts and others have eight weeks to submit views on government plans and to share experiences.


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