Tobacco & Vapes Bill faces first MPs debate in Westminster

Tobacco & Vapes Bill faces first MPs debate in Westminster

MPs in Westminster are debating the Tobacco & Vapes Bill, with its second reading on Tuesday 16th April giving them the first opportunity to debate and vote on the issue.

Introduced in March this year, the Bill wants to create the UK’s first ‘smokefree’ generation, making it illegal for those born since 2009 (children turning 15 this year) to be sold cigarettes.

The controversial bill also aims to restrict vape flavours, packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann has previously confirmed that NI will be included in the Bill, subject to approval by the Assembly. He said he fully supported the UK Government’s plans to create a smokefree generation and to tackle youth vaping.

The debate comes as a Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) survey has revealed that 80% of those surveyed had bought illegal tobacco in the previous year.

The survey, carried out between October and December 2023, questioned 12,000 smokers on their attitudes, awareness and understanding of illegal tobacco. The results also showed that nearly three quarters of respondents have seen an illegal 20-pack of cigarettes priced between £3 and £6 (compared to the mean average RRP of £15.26 for a legal packet).


Despite government attempts to curb the problem, the illegal tobacco market is growing. While the number of adult smokers in the UK has decreased by 30% (to 12% of the UK population) since the TMA commissioned its first ‘Anti-Illicit Trade Survey’ in 2014, the number of respondents who claim to purchase non-UK duty paid tobacco has reached a new high point of 80%, with one in five smokers only buying ‘branded’ tobacco, even though all legal tobacco has been sold in plain packaging in the UK since 2016 – eight years ago.

Almost two thirds of survey respondents claimed repeated hikes in tobacco taxes couple with the cost-of-living pressures meant they have changed their tobacco spending habits, up from 39% in 2022.

Strikingly, the survey also found that every UK region had seen an increase in the purchase of illegal tobacco since 2019, with the exception of the South East of England, where there has been no change.

Under the proposed Tobacco & Vapes Bill, Trading Standards officers’ powers would be strengthened with on-the-spot fines of £100 to uphold new laws and clamp down on underage sales of tobacco and vaping products.

Some Conservative MPs have said they will not support the Bill, however it is anticipated it will likely pass as Labour does support it.


Many retailers have raised concerns about the Bill, citing the increase in sales of illicit tobacco and vapes.

The Federation of Independent Retailers (the Fed) said a ban on disposable vapes would only fuel illicit sales, with National President Muntazir Dipoti stating that banning disposable vapes would “not help people give up smoking and vaping” and would “fuel the illicit market”.

Rupert Lewis, Director of the TMA said that the illegal tobacco market in the UK has now reached an inflection point.

“In previous years, the TMA Anti-Illicit Trade Survey has painted a picture of a stubbornly resilient illegal tobacco trade, which in spite of overall smoking rates downtrending year-on-year, has remained resistant to decline,” said Mr Lewis.

“I believe that there will be profound and far-reaching repercussions for consumers, retailers, law enforcement agencies and communities across the UK if a phased generational ban becomes law. In time, it will push the entire UK tobacco market underground, and I urge the government to reflect hard on the consequences of this policy decision and the lasting impact that it will have on the UK.”