Update from the Lib Dems in Wales re the vaping ban…..

As the Public Health Bill progresses through the Assembly I thought it might be useful to update you on the proposal by the Welsh Labour Government (now with Plaid Cymru support) to outlaw the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

The Welsh Government had originally wanted to ban e-cigarettes from all enclosed public and work places but Labour’s health minister Mark Drakeford has now backed down from these plans in the face of opposition pressure, and the Health and Social Services Committee has passed amendments tabled by him listing places where the ban will apply.

Vaping will now only be allowed in pubs that serve drink but do not serve food as well, and where unaccompanied children are banned. Their use will also be restricted in schools, colleges, universities, train stations and on public transport, among other places.

The Welsh Government have said that workplaces not open to the public are also no longer captured by the restrictions, but stressed that these changes are proposals and others may be brought forward later.

As Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Kirsty Williams has said, the list is “as clear as mud”. She added: “Just because the minister has made a separation in law of the difference between tobacco and e-cigarettes does not mean that that’s how the public will view it”.

And when the fact that many pubs where vaping will be allowed serve pickled eggs, pork scratchings, packets of crisps on the bar etc was raised with him, the Minister was at pains to say that his amendments do not cover food of that sort.

The importance of any law of this kind is that it should be easily understandable and enforceable. Unfortunately, the way this bill is now framed means that it is far from passing that test. And of course there is still no evidence of harm from second-hand vapour to back up the measures. This law is going from bad to worse.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be bringing further amendments to the next stage of this bill to try and remove these restrictions on vaping.

In the meantime please keep up the pressure by lobbying other AMs and by sharing our petition by e-mail and social media – the link you need is http://www.welshlibdems.wales/ecigs.

A crafty move by Mark Drakeford?

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

 

What else do we have to do?

The Welsh Health and Social Care Committee gave their report on the new Welsh Bill that will ban vaping in public and enclosed public spaces last week.

We were expecting a yes/no response – yes we agree or no we don’t, i.e. throw the vaping ban out.

What we didn’t expect was a no consensus answer, a ‘no direction’ answer. This means that the Assembly Members are gong to have to work it out for themselves; what they know about e-cigs, what they believe and want to do re banning vaping in public places.

Reading the report for the second time, I had a realisation as to why there was no consensus.

And I’m not 100% convinced it is because of party politics, though I am sure this has played a large part.

Could it be that many of the AMs are simply scared of making the wrong decision?

Reading the first part on e-cigarettes, there were three ‘bodies’ for the ban, 7 against it.

How did the minority that had no evidence have more of an effect than those with evidence?

Could it be that those tasked with regulating are scared of saying yes to e-cigs because of the tobacco industry and the history there? Because of the way that Tobacco Control has so successfully manipulated all our thinking around smoking?

Smokers are portrayed as bad, smelly, lazy, good for nothing people – (sorry Einstein and Churchill). The Tobacco Industry is portrayed as evil, they want to kill you for money and they lie and cheat. Nicotine is supposedly as addictive as heroine and the children are going to become hooked.

Have we all been so brow beaten in to believing this that anything that looks like smoking is evil, that even a product that is at most conservative guess is 95% safer than smoking, but looks a little like it, should be banned because people are scared of history repeating itself?

Only a few regulators will take that risk.

It doesn’t matter that expert witnesses sat in front of the committee, expert witnesses that have spent their entire careers studying tobacco control and who told the committee that banning e-cigarettes in public was a bad idea. The committee couldn’t come to a consensus, couldn’t agree, and as such could not put forward any recommendations.

This is troubling, because we now have regulations that could come into force because of a ‘possibility’. A possibility of harms, not any actual proof, and nor is the credible researching even hinting at this.

What we have is a possibility that at some time in the future there may be harms.

But how long into the future are we looking? The majority of vapers have been smoking for decades, how will we know if any of the harms are due to smoking or vaping or both? Vaping will, if this ban goes through along with the TPD be nothing more than another NRT, one that will no doubt have the same dismal success rates after all the innovation has been regulated out of it.

Non smokers are not interested in vaping, this has been shown again and again, both here and in the USA – but this is still a fear – a ‘potential disbenfit’ that vaping renormalizes smoking. Public Health in Wales believes that it will, in their minds it looks like smoking, so it will encourage smoking. Again the experts outnumbered the generalists, but the fear got in the way of the AMs – it could ‘potentially’ happen.

What of the gateway theory that should have been put to bed a long time ago? Again we have the experts against the generalists – the generalist; all 2 of them plus the Minister based their reasoning on poor, debunked science. The experts, all 4 of them, stated they are not a gateway.

The HSC Committee’s response to this? “ The Committee acknowledges that limited evidence is available about whether the use of e-cigarettes is acting as a gateway to smoking tobacco products. Nevertheless, it is concerned to learn of examples of e-cigarette marketing being targeted at children and young people.”

I could continue, but the rest of the report is in the same vein; the committee acknowledge the lack of evidence to back up the Ministers claims but they remained concerned or want more monitoring.

How is it that the experts have not managed to convince them?

Why is it that to us, the benefits are as clear as the noses on our faces?

Somehow we have ended up dealing with ideology, one that has a Health Minister when responding to the claim that if vaping is lumped in with smoking, then vapers will be put in harms way said, “people are making choices here, and nobody is forced to use an e- cigarette or a conventional cigarette or to stand next to anybody else who is using either”.

You can’t fight that mind-set with facts, or research, because it’s not based on either. It’s based on an emotion, a belief; a belief that smoking is horrible and you shouldn’t do it. It doesn’t matter if that ‘smoking’ is 95% less harmful – you still shouldn’t do it.

And the committee is seems are basing their responses on emotions too, because despite robust positive evidence, given by experts, they remain concerned.

5 AM’s supported the proposed ban, 5 would amend the proposed ban, 4 oppose it. Looking at the numbers there is still a chance that the ban may be defeated and I guess this is a hope we must cling to.

Meanwhile you can still do your bit. You all have your own story, and now would be a great time to tell it. Tell your AM how many you smoked and for how long, tell them how many times you tried and failed to quit using SSS or NRT, but finally vaping helped you.

Make it clear that for you it is a choice between vaping and smoking as everything else has failed, and when you look at it that way; vaping is clearly the better option.