A lot has changed in the months since the Welsh Lib Dems started our fight against Labour’s illiberal vaping ban. Nine months, some rather tense Committee sessions, a hilariously embarrasing Government survey, plenty of emails to AMs and over 3,500 petition signatures later, we’ve succeeded in forcing Labour’s hand and watering down their original proposals.
Instead of a blanket ban in all enclosed public spaces in Wales, Mark Drakeford now only plans to ban vaping in a specific list of places. It seems that this list won’t form part of the legislation itself, however; it will instead be set out in regulations that will be passed separately to the Bill.
This is a crafty move on his part for two reasons. Firstly, it makes whatever list he comes up with much easier to change in the future. What may now include schools, public transport and establishments that serve food could be expanded much more widely with a lot less fuss than changing the law.
But secondly, and perhaps more crucially, this makes the entire Bill much easier to pass. Drakeford has said he needs to “work with others” to pass the Bill – those “others” I suspect are some Plaid Cymru AMs, who have been putting forward proposals very similar to what Labour now suggest.
The “others” certainly aren’t Welsh Liberal Democrats – we’ve been clear from the start in our opposition to these proposals. From a purely ideological perspective, as a liberal I’m uncomfortable with the idea of government banning something without clear evidence of the harm it could cause to others. But from looking at the evidence alone, it’s clear to me that the proposed vaping ban won’t just fail to improve public health – it could even lead to harm by preventing people from making the switch that many have made from tobacco cigarettes to the less harmful e-cigs.
It’s true that Welsh Liberal Democrats certainly couldn’t stomach any Bill that contained a vaping ban like the one we have in front of us. But the task of voting against this Bill is made a lot easier by the fact that, aside from some small changes to regulations around tattoos and piercings, this so-called “Public Health Bill” doesn’t actually achieve anything.
With so many public health issues facing our nation at the moment – obesity, cancer, heart disease to name but a few – is this Bill really the best that Labour can come up with? As it stands, the Bill does very little to solve any of these great public health challenges – and in the case of cancer, could even worsen the situation because of this vaping ban.
But we must not give up hope – there is still time to stop this ban in its tracks, but we all need to redouble our efforts in this fight. That’s why, as I write, we’re preparing campaign packs to send to vaping shops across Wales so they can do their bit in collecting petition signatures. If you haven’t yet added your name, you can do so by clicking here.
With your help, some determination and a bit of luck, I hope I’ll be writing on this blog in two months’ time in a Wales free of a vaping ban!
Kirsty Williams AM
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats