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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Swann and Chambers welcome report on tackling the public health impacts of smoking and vaping

Robin Swann MLA with party colleague Alan Chambers MLA

Robin Swann MLA with party colleague Alan Chambers MLA

Former Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, and health spokesperson Alan Chambers MLA have welcomed the Northern Ireland Audit Office Report on tackling the public health impacts of smoking and vaping. 

Mr Swann said:

“The report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office has highlighted the concerns around smoking and especially vaping, that I have been aware and vocal of since my time as Health Minister.

"The Audit Office Report found that there are 2,200 smoking-related deaths per year in Northern Ireland, with increases in smoke-related diseases such as lung cancer, premature heart failure and strokes as well as around 35,000 smoking-related hospital admissions recorded in NI annually.

"Therefore, it is essential that we look at ways of discouraging people from starting to smoke to help continue to reduce the overall smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland.

“The report found that around 14% of the total population in Northern Ireland currently smoke. Whilst this statistic has decreased by 10% since 2011, we face new emerging challenges including the increased uptake of vaping. Vaping levels amongst adults doubled between 2014/15 to 2022/23. Unlike cigarettes, vapes do not have the same restrictions or regulations and due to their colourful branding and attractive flavours, many people have taken up vaping over smoking thinking it is a better alternative. 

"Vaping was intended as a short-term measure to help people quit smoking, but instead, people have now started vaping, having never smoked a cigarette before in their lives. Furthermore, statistics show a staggering increase in young people who have taken up vaping. 

“Short-term research has shown us that vaping has a magnitude of health implications for young people under the age of 25 but especially those under 18. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance often found in vapes and can cause serious damage to a young person’s brain development impacting their learning, memory and attention. With many studies still ongoing, it will be interesting to see the long-term effects vaping can have on individuals.”

Health spokesperson, Mr Chambers added:

“Youth uptake for vaping has doubled since 2023 from 3.2% to 7.6% due to how accessible, attractive and relatively cheap single-use disposable vapes are. Schools are also aware of the impacts vapes are having, with many now having to install vape detectors in bathrooms to catch young people illegally vaping on school premises. 

"Furthermore, there are growing concerns about illicit substances in vapes found on school premises and currently, there is a lack of legislative infrastructure to support schools and local authorities with how they deal with this matter.

 “Ulster Unionists support the Westminster Government's call to ban single-use disposable vapes to help protect young people's health. At the end of 2023, we published our Vaping Policy and have suggested guidance and regulations that should be considered for legislation once Stormont returns. Some suggested guidance and regulations from our policy paper include:

• A ban on single-use vapes and retailers would be required to apply for and hold a licence that allows them to sell vape oils and rechargeable vapes.

• Increased officer-led enforcement throughout councils to do spot checks on retailers and businesses that sell vapes or tobacco to ensure they are not being proxy purchased for children or sold to children directly. 

• Harsher fines and penalties are placed on businesses that sell these products illegally. 

“We should be eliminating causes of concern for families, parents and teachers by implementing effective legislation that calls for tougher restrictions to crack down on the continuing concerns and impacts smoking and vaping has on an individuals’ health.”

Earlier this week Northern Ireland's Department of Health issued a statement on UK Government plans to tackle tobacco and vaping.

A spokesperson for the Department said:

"The Department of Health notes the UK Government’s plans to enable NI to legislate to increase the smoking age and to introduce measures aimed at reducing youth vaping, subject to Northern Ireland Assembly agreement.

"In accordance with the provisions that are available, the Department will make the necessary preparations to allow incoming Ministers and the NI Assembly to take a decision on introducing the regulations in Northern Ireland.

"Today’s announcement follows the publication of the outcome of the UK-wide consultation ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping’.

"The consultation closed on 6 December and received 27,921 responses, including more than 1,200 from NI. The consultation report shows strong support for the proposed measures across the UK and particularly in Northern Ireland.

"The Department of Health has a long-standing strategic aim for a tobacco-free Northern Ireland. Tobacco use continues to cause around 2,200 deaths in Northern Ireland each year. Alongside the immeasurable human costs, our hospitals spend approximately £200 million treating tobacco related conditions each year. Tobacco use is a huge threat to public health, but it is a threat that is entirely preventable."


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