Every member of the House of Commons will have hundreds or possibly thousands of e-cigarette users (vapers) as constituents. It is therefore surprising that there has not been much debate amongst MPs regarding the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) or the regulatory proposals published by the MHRA, both of which seek to regulate e-cigarettes as medicinal products.
A couple of MPs have raised the issue of e-cigarettes on the floor of the House and there have been some limited discussion on the tobacco related aspects of the TPD, but on the TPD as a whole and in particular the proposals to regulate e-cigarettes the silence has been deafening!
When Anna Soubry MP was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health (the person responsible for the TPD) she actually went out of her way to avoid debate, using scrutiny override at the Council of Health Ministers meeting in Luxembourg on the 21st June 2013 without the approval of the European Scrutiny Committee. For this she rightly came in for some serious criticism, not just from vapers, but also from the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.
In light of the serious nature of the proposals contained within the draft TPD, this committee rightly feels that MPs should have the opportunity to formally debate its content before any government minister signs the UK up to a final version in Brussels.
On the 4th of September the Committee formally recommended that the draft TPD be debated in full by European Committee C. 64 days later we still have no date for this debate. If this debate is not held soon it is very likely that it will be too late as the European Parliament, Council, and Commission have the stated aim of concluding negotiations on the TPD by Christmas.
Furthermore, it is likely that if this debate is not held soon that the UK Government will sign the UK up to a TPD that has not been formally debated in parliament.
Why is parliament taking so long to organise this debate? To try and find out we contacted the clerk of the European Scrutiny Committee who informed us that the timing of the debate was entirely at the Government’s discretion. The department of government responsible for organising this debate is the Department of Health. This is the same department that seemingly failed to question the MHRA’s proposals to regulate e-cigarettes as medicinal products despite an obvious conflict of interests and which allowed one of its Ministers to use scrutiny override without the approval of the European Scrutiny Committee. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that they appear to be dragging their heals when it comes to organising this debate.
Anna Soubry MP was recently replaced as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health by Jane Ellison MP. We hope the new minister will allow Parliament the time it needs to debate this issue. It was clear from a recent Prime Minister’s Question Time that even the Prime Minister himself is seemingly unaware of what is being proposed in the TPD.
The revision of the TPD has the potential to have a significant impact, not just on vapers, but also their friends and their families. It is vital that MPs look in detail at what is being proposed and that they have this debate as a matter of urgency.