UPDATED: Reply from Heidi Alexander to #LordsVapeVote and my responses

(Updated from my rather hurried reply and post on smartphone earlier)

Over the weekend like many of you I wrote to several Labour MPs, including +Heidi Alexander . Earlier I recieved a reply from Ms Alexander that shows clearly external lobbying has affected the Labour stance on this issue, and also shows Ms Alexander has little or no understanding of the matter at hand.


Dear Mr Summers

Thank you for contacting me regarding Lord Callanan's motion in the House of Lords to annul the regulations which transpose the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) into UK law.

Firstly, I share your views about the benefits of vaping over smoking and I believe that recent research shows that some of the initial concerns about e-cigarettes were overstated. Vaping can be a safe and effective way to give up smoking and I believe the Government should be doing more to promote e-cigarettes as a potentially useful aid to help people quit smoking.

However if Lord Callanan's motion to annul the TPD regulations was to pass this would mean that all the positive changes brought in by these regulations to help smokers quit and make smoking less attractive to younger people, would be also removed. These changes include, but are not limited to, larger health warnings on all cigarette packs, picture warnings on the front of all packs and information on all packs about where to get help quitting. These are incredibly important changes and whilst we believe the Government does need to do more to address concerns of vapers, Labour is not able to support annulling these regulations given their wider benefits. 

The Labour Party has tabled its own "regret motion", a copy of which can be viewed below, and this sets out some of our concerns with the regulations. These concerns include the failure of the Government to establish a monitoring mechanism to measure whether the directive will have a negative impact on the number of smokers using electronic cigarettes, and the failure of the Government to launch a public awareness campaign re-assuring smokers that vaping is much less harmful than smoking.

I note concerns have been raised about the ban on nicotine content above 20mg/ml that is contained in the regulations. Whilst it is true that stronger products will in future need to be licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, for many people this will make little difference as the most popular liquids tend to be those products with concentrations of nicotine lower than 20mg/ml.

I am also aware of concerns that the regulations place limits on ‘container’ size and ‘tank capacity’. Whilst I understand these concerns, it is important to note that the prohibition of container size to 10ml only comes into force on 20 May 2017, which allows ample time for manufacturers to make the better quality e-liquids available within the legal size limit.
Overall, I believe these regulations as a whole will help reduce the uptake of smoking amongst young people, and help ensure the safety and quality of e-cigarettes.
Thank you once again for getting in touch on this important issue.

Best wishes

Heidi Alexander MP

†Lord Hunt of Kings Heath to move that, in the light of the concerns about the impact of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 on the use of electronic cigarettes, this House regrets that there is not a monitoring mechanism in place to measure whether the Regulations will have a negative impact on the number of smokers using electronic cigarettes to give up smoking; that the Regulations are not to be accompanied by a public information campaign to reassure smokers that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than normal smoking; that smoking cessation services are being cut back at the same time as the Regulations are being introduced; and that the Regulations are due for implementation before the Government has published their tobacco strategy (SI 2015/507).


My immediate reply:

Ms Alexander,

The anullment of the Act does not "kill" it, it means that the process of transposition would be restarted with the Article 20 parts removed. That would mean the government would either have to go back to the EU and negotiate an exemption to Article 20 or pay the penalty for not complying to the TPD2.

The EU and MEPs have already told us that there is no scope for revisiting and revising the TPD, the legal challenge to Article 20 was dismissed by the European Court, not on the points raised but with rhetoric.

It would appear clear that ASH England and Deborah Arnott have whispered in your ear, as the dismissal of people using over 20mg liquids is one of their fallacious lines. More than 9% of existing vapers use eliquid over 20mg strength. Initial switchers use 24-36mg generally, so this wiĺl impact them heavily.

The "quality" of eliquid is of no relevance to the 10ml bottle limit. Similarly the device limit is also not related to quality.

What precisely does a "regret" motion achieve? Does it allow us to ditch article 20 or is it merely a distraction from the Fatal Motion and a salve for pricked consciences?

Historically I have been a Labour voter. But having seen the actions of Welsh Labour and your reply I can categorically state I will never, ever vote for your party in any election.

This stance will also strengthen the affect of Article 20 on the EU referendum. I am not anti-EU or anti-European but I cannot in conscience vote to support membership of an organisation forcing this law on people despite changes in evidence.

Yours sincerely

John Summers

If this is indeed the stance of the +Labour Party then it clearly shows their disconnection from grass roots politics and their addiction to lobbyists.

Never again.

Later I added some parts that I'd missed in a separate email;


Ms Alexander,


Further to my last email, I had neglected to point out that, despite assertions to the contrary, we already have plain packaging, under age and proxy purchase legislation in the UK which is entirely separate to The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations.


"On 10 February 2014, UK Parliament accepted amendments to the Children and Families Bill, which would enable the Government to:

1. Introduce regulations requiring plain packaging for tobacco products;

2. Introduce regulations making it an offence to sell e-cigarettes to children under 18;

3. Make it an offence for an adult to buy cigarettes for anyone under the age of 18 (proxy purchasing).

In the whipped vote, 453 MPs voted in favour of the amendments and only 24 voted against"

" On 11 March 2015, MPs in The House of Commons voted in favour of plain packaging (367 for and 113 against). The measure was broadly supported by Labour and Liberal Democrats with opposition coming from Conservative MPs.[32] The legislation was subsequently accepted into the House of Lords on 16 March and came into effect on 20 May 2016 alongside the TPD."

We have similar extant parallel legislation covering advertising, publicity and product placement.

Please excuse my terse tone, I do not intend to be so but I along with many others are angry at the careless way in which this is being handled, by all parties. To use a phrase from the Americans "you gotta have skin in the game to care" I suppose.

Please, I urge you, re-examine this decision, the extant legislation and ignore whispers from the sidelines.

Regards

John Summers

I can only hope everyone else joins in in rebutting Labours position on this.

#VapeOn

6 comments:

  1. My reply to the same letter:

    Dear Heidi Alexander,

    Thank you for your form letter I have enjoyed reading all four copies of it that I have seen so far.

    The idea that the smoking sections of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 would be lost is at best disingenuous. It is well within the ability of government to split the bill into it's constituent parts and pass the tobacco sections in full and allow the vaping section (Parts 6 and 7) to be framed as separate legislation, as frankly should have been done in the first place.

    If you would like an example of how this can be done I suggest you speak to your colleagues in the Welsh Assembly who have clearly found it in possible with regards to the Welsh Health Bill.

    If you read my original letter I specifically commented on the people most affected by the limit of 20mg. Those affected will be the new switchers. The legislation is framed in such a way as to make it harder for smokers to quit.

    I am also opposed to the idea that the government should be spending taxpayers money on public information films to offset the fact that they are banning advertising on a product that has widespread benefits for the health of the people of the UK. It is frankly ludicrous to waste money on such a thing when appropriate legislation would enable the advertising to continue at zero cost to the tax payer.

    I am sincerely grateful for your regret in approving of a bill that will be detrimental to the health of the UK, but I would be even more grateful if you put your regrets to one side and actually DID SOMETHING about it.

    Regards,

    Abigail Cottrill

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  2. Wishy washy reply, still not getting through the lobbying, no grasp on ex smokers concerns, never again labour either, now entrenched in the system, reap your just rewards.

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  3. Ugly stuff but great reply John.

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  4. This was my reply to her:

    Thank you for sending me your standard reply, I am really saddened.

    You have wasted an opportunity to make a real difference to the health of the people you are supposed to represent. There is no credible scientific evidence anywhere in the world that can be used to support the inclusion of e-cigarettes in the TPD. You had an opportunity to make a difference, it could have been done in a way that would have protected some of the measure against smoking cigarettes. Instead, you have played into the hands of large Pharma corporations & even the tobacco industry. Because the TPD protects tobacco companies from competition. These measures will do nothing to reduce the uptake of smoking amongst the young, on the contrary, their choices will be so limited that there will be more smoking as a result. That’s because smokers need higher levels of nicotine to break the habit, the TPD makes it harder to quit.

    As for safety, show us the evidence of any case, anywhere in the world where safety of e-cigarettes has been an issue. There aren’t any, not one. I don’t include the oft quoted exploding battery stuff, that’s a battery issue, not an e-cigarette issue.

    I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s never been about health, just ideological zealotry at it’s worse and most damaging.

    Some people that smoke today, will die prematurely as a consequence of this decision. If collectively you still have consciences, they should be keeping you and the rest of your shadow health colleagues awake at night.

    Yours – Robert Pearson

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  5. My reply was as follows
    Dear Heidi

    Thank you for your quick response to my email, but I am very disappointed in your reply because I do not feel that you have addressed the points that I have made.

    You show very little understanding of how vaping works. Most new users are heavy smokers and need 24mg nicotine strength when they begin, to help them get through the crucial beginning stage after quitting. It is true that many users then decrease their nicotine levels as I did. My point is that NEW vapers need the strength in the early stages to prevent relapse into smoking.

    You have not addressed my point about advertising bans at all. How are we to encourage people to switch without advertising? How are we to get the message across to the lower socio- economic groups in society, those who smoke the most and indeed those who the Labour Party itself was formed to protect?

    I am absolutely disgusted that you have sent me a standard "cut and paste" reply which merely affirms my decision to stop donating to the Labour Party and to withdraw my membership and support.




    Yours

    Philip

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  6. I got exactly the same email. Here's my reply:

    Dear Ms Alexander

    Thank you for your reply.

    While I am glad that Labour recognises the usefulness and relative safety of e-cigarettes, and agree with the points made in Lord Hunt's motion, I am very disappointed that you did not support Lord Callanan's motion, and am having trouble understanding the reasoning behind your decision.

    1) You claim that rejecting the e-cig measures in the TPD would entail also rejecting the measures related to cigarettes, which you support. This is simply not true. Lord Callanan's amendment objected only to the e-cig measures, and there is no logical relation between the cigarette measures and the e-cig measures, which would make it legally impossible to implement the former and not the latter.

    The only relation between these two very different sets of measures is that they happen to have been bundled into one EU legislative package. (This very odd pairing of different products into one package - it is well known - was itself a result of extensive lobbying by an alliance of pharmaceutical companies and the more hysterically strident, junk-science wing of the anti-tobacco lobby).

    This argument - of the inviolable atomicity of the TPD - is one we have already heard during the debate about it at the EU level. It is not a good argument; merely an artifact of the silliness (or rather, deliberate political tactic) of legislating on two different matters - one "easy" and one more contentious - in one legislative package, so that the scrutiny of the contentious matter is drowned out by consensus on the "easy" matter.

    If Labour had supported Lord Callanan's amendment, Parliament would have been entirely free to amend the original SI which implemented the TPD, removing or improving the e-cig measures, re-introduce it and pass it with no objections from Lord Callanan or his supporters. The threat to the cigarette-related measures from removing the e-cig measures is entirely imaginary. Is bad law to be accepted for the sake of legislative convenience? Or is the problem the anticipated political backlash from the (admittedly powerful and strident) aforementioned junk-science anti-tobacco lobby, who condemn anything but complete, prompt adherence to their programme as backsliding and a threat to their holy crusade?

    2) While most vapers do not use liquid stronger than 20mg/ml, those who do are a crucially important population: smokers who are in the process of taking up vaping and giving up smoking. As one of the Lords noted on a personal level in the debate, and as Clive Bates has shown more generally, strong e-liquids are very important to ease the transition between smoking and vaping. Most vapers then eventually switch to less strong concentrations as they get used to vaping rather than smoking. The 20mg/ml limit is based on no health risk whatsoever: it is completely unscientific and arbitrary.

    3) Like the 20mg/ml limit, the limits on container size and tank capacity are based on no science or health-risk whatsoever. There is no risk-based justification for them. I have a litre (1000ml) of bleach and a litre of white spirit (far more dangerous substances) in a cupboard in the next room, in containers with childproof caps. Why should my 30ml e-liquid bottles (with childproof caps), and my 5ml tank become illegal? Again, these are completely unscientific and arbitrary measures, with a punitive flavour to them. The tank limit, in particular, will make hundreds of currently-available products, which have been used by vapers for years with no problems, illegal. Better-quality e-liquids are not a solution to these arbitrary rules, which have a distinct smell of market capture by regulatory capture about them.

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