King's Speech includes Tobacco and Vapes Bill

King Charles delivered his first King's Speech on Tuesday, outlining 21 laws that ministers intend to pass in the next year-long session of parliament.

Around a third of those laws have been carried over from the previous sessions or already published in some form.

The Tabacco and Vapes Bill includes plans for a phased ban on smoking and will bring in restrictions on the packaging and marketing of vapes.

In the speech, King Charles said: "My Government will introduce legislation to create a smokefree generation by restricting the sale of tobacco so that children currently aged fourteen or younger can never be sold cigarettes, and restricting the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children."

In response, Professor Sanjay Agrawal, the Royal College of Physicians' special adviser on tobacco, said:  “We welcome the Tobacco and Vapes Bill confirmed today in the King’s speech to create a smoke-free generation by raising the age of sale of tobacco and reducing the allure and availability of e-cigarettes for children.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the UK. The RCP has long called for measures to curb the significant health risks posed by tobacco consumption. This prevention-first approach will pay dividends for future generations as we look to improve public health, reduce demand on the NHS, tackle health inequalities and create a more prosperous society.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK's chief executive commented: "Smoking rates fall when leaders take decisive action: that’s why we support the UK Government’s commitment to changing the age of sale of tobacco announced in the King’s Speech today. The Government should move to bring this legislation before Parliament in early 2024, and we call on MPs from all parties to support it."

In the only mention of the NHS, the speech also included already existing plans to cut waiting lists and mention of the NHS workforce plan: "Working with NHS England, my Government will deliver its plans to cut waiting lists and transform the long-term workforce of the National Health Service. This will include delivering on the NHS workforce plan, the first long-term plan to train the doctors and nurses the country needs, and minimum service levels to prevent strikes from undermining patient safety.  Record levels of investment are expanding and transforming mental health services to ensure more people can access the support they need."

Reform of the Mental Health Act and the banning of conversion practices were committed from the speech. They were both included in 2022's Queen's Speech.

In a statement, NHS Confederation said: "From a health perspective, the reform of the Mental Health Act and banning conversion practices are glaring omissions from the speech, which will be a concern to our members. The ban on so-called conversion therapy and the draft mental health bill were included in the 2022 Queen’s Speech and both garnered widespread support from our members across the NHS.

"It was positive to hear the government acknowledging the cost-of-living crisis, which is linked to worsening population health, although it is unclear what policies the government plans to take forward to address this.

"The move to secure annual licensing for oil and gas in the North Sea is likely to exacerbate health issues related to air pollution, putting increased strain on the NHS.

"Proposals to provide more energy efficient housing were also scrapped, exposing more vulnerable tenants to lower-quality housing, which has been demonstrated to worsen health outcomes."

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay