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Belfast council comes down hard on vaping and smoking for UK consultation

November 15, 2023

Photo: iStock

By Michael Kenwood, Local Democracy Reporter

Belfast council has responded to a UK wide consultation on vaping by proposing vapes should only be sold from behind the counter and with “unattractive” flavours.

Belfast City Council, which is the largest functioning democratic body operating in Northern Ireland while Stormont is in stasis, has returned a muscular reply to the UK wide ‘Smokefree Generation’ consultation.

Published in October by the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in partnership with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, the consultation makes proposals for restrictions on the sale of tobacco and vapes, including a proposed UK wide ban on the sale of disposable vape products.

In April 2023 the council agreed to convene a working group with the NI Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and the PSNI to consider measures to strengthen current legislation and enforcement, including the consideration of a ban on the sale of disposable vapes. The use of vapes by under 18s in all council sites have been banned.

At the council’s recent monthly meeting of its People and Communities Committee at City Hall, elected members approved the council officer reply to the consultation.

In the paper the British government is proposing to bring forward legislation making it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1 2009. In effect, the law will stop children turning 14 or younger this year from ever legally being sold tobacco products – raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population.

This will create a “smoke-free generation” by ensuring children and young people do not become addicted in the first place.

The consultation also sets out proposed measures to address youth vaping including:  restricting flavours, regulating point of sale displays, regulating packaging and presentation and considering restricting the supply and sale of disposable vapes. It also proposes consideration of whether regulations should extend to non-nicotine vapes.

The Belfast City Council response was to take a strong line on all of these considerations. City Hall agrees that the age of sale for tobacco products should be changed so that anyone born on or after January 1 2009 will never be legally sold tobacco products, and that also proxy sales of tobacco be prohibited.

The council writes: “The council is of the opinion that mandatory age identification checks should be introduced along with this legislation to ensure that retailers operate a mandatory no ID, no sale policy to prevent anyone born on/after the 1st January 2009 from purchasing vapes.

“The acceptable forms of ID should be specified. In addition, online age verification must be enhanced to stop underage sales of tobacco products and vapes online.”

The council argues all vapes should be reduced to tobacco flavours only. It states: “The council believes that vape flavours should be restricted. Belfast City Council recognises that vapes can have a role in smoking cessation, and, if vapes are being used as an aid to quit smoking then vapes should be limited to tobacco flavour.

“Other flavours should not be made available to ensure that vaping is unattractive to potential new users. In addition restricting flavours will assist in regulating the safety of vapes on the market and facilitate consistent enforcement.”

It states: “The council believes that new users, particularly young people, should be discouraged as much as possible from starting vaping. Restricting flavours will make vapes unattractive and prevent uptake and avoid future addiction in young people. Flavours should be as unattractive as possible to children and young people to prevent uptake and avoid future addiction.”

The council also chose the hardline option on the question of whether vapes should be displayed. It states: “The council believes that in order to prevent people from starting to vape and to assist those wishing to quit vaping, all vapes, vape devices, e-liquids and associated products must be kept behind the counter and not on display.

“Evidence has shown that marketing of tobacco products encourages young people to smoke and the point of sale display restrictions have been successfully implemented in retailers and could easily be extended to vapes.

The council argues that a negative registration scheme for retailers selling vapes should be introduced. It could be similar to the current register for retailers of tobacco products in Northern Ireland, through the Tobacco Register NI and should include similar retailer sanctions.

It states: “This would provide councils with a comprehensive list of retailers who sell vapes without the excessive cost or administrative burden for both businesses and councils that a licensing scheme would likely introduce.

“The council does not agree that exemptions should be made for specialist vape shops. Unlike specialist tobacco retailers, which are rare, there are a large number/ proliferation of specialist vape shops.”

Regarding packaging, the council supports prohibiting the use of all imagery and colouring and branding for both the vape packaging and vape device. It states: “The council believes that standardised packaging for both the device and packaging of vapes should be introduced. This has been successfully introduced for tobacco and will reduce the appeal to young people and for those trying to quit vaping.”

On disposable vapes it argues: “The council agrees that the sale and supply of disposable vapes should be prohibited. Disposable vapes are particularly used by children and young people due to their accessibility, ease of use and cost.

“There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that disposable vapes are often incorrectly disposed of in household waste and recycling bins, as well as in street litter bins. Given their discrete size, disposable vapes often go undetected within household waste and recycling streams, until it is too late to deal with them appropriately. “

In addition to approving the council response to the consultation, the committee also agreed a proposal by Alliance Councillor Micky Murray to call for the limit of nicotine in alternative tobacco products to reduced to 0.8milligrams.

(Local Democracy Reporting Service)