The Welsh government has launched a consultation on proposals to address a number of public health issues in Wales. The White Paper entitled 'Listening to you – Your health matters' proposes to address such issues through a Public Health Bill and other related measures. A link to the consultation document can be found here.
Two of the key proposals that will affect business operating in the hospitality and leisure sector are targeted at tobacco and electronic cigarette, and alcohol, introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol. The proposals, if implemented, would only apply to Wales.
In this briefing note we consider the proposals in so far as they affect e-cigarettes and MUP.
There are currently no restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes, but it is proposed that the use of e-cigarettes should be banned in enclosed and substantially enclosed public places and workplaces. In essence, the proposals mean that e-cigarettes would be treated no differently to standard cigarettes.
The proposals represent a further step taken by governments at both a domestic and EU level to regulate this rapidly growing industry. The changes introduced by the new Tobacco Products Directive in 2016 will, in particular, bring e-cigarettes more in-line with tobacco products across the EU.
The Welsh Government's key concerns are that e-cigarettes are normalising smoking behaviour and may act as a gateway to the use of more conventional tobacco products. They also indicate that there are 'suggestions' that people seeing others using e-cigarettes 'may' mistakenly believe that they are permitted to smoke in premises where smoking is prohibited. None of these concerns or suggestions is, at the present time, supported by any evidence.
There are also concerns that the unrestricted use of e-cigarettes makes it more difficult to enforce the current ban on smoking which is one of the key reasons why a number of bars, cafes and stadiums have already imposed a ban on the use of e-cigarettes on a voluntary basis.
If the proposals are implemented it is likely that we will start to see separate smoking and vaping areas in places, such as pubs and clubs, to protect vapers from second hand smoke.
Alcohol – Minimum Unit pricing
The consultation proposes a MUP of 50p for all sales of alcohol.
Minimum unit pricing previously formed part of the UK Governments Alcohol Strategy but was rejected in February 2013 as it was considered there was insufficient evidence that it would reduce problem drinking without penalising those who drink responsibly. Although MUP has been accepted in Scotland, this decision is still being challenged in the courts.
Having decided against MUP, the UK Government has instead proposed a ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT, which came into force in England and Wales on 6 April 2014. The consultation is silent on the interplay between this measure and the proposed minimum unit pricing which, if left unresolved, has the potential to create confusion for both retailers and those responsible for enforcement.
Against this background, and the potential issues regarding the powers of the Welsh Ministers to legislate, it is interesting that the White Paper has included this proposal at this particular point in time, when debate around the issue has polarised opinion as to the effectiveness of MUP. It does however highlight the Welsh Government's desire for the price of alcohol to be increased. It is unlikely that we have heard the end of this issue.
The proposals around e-cigarettes in particular present the industry with real challenges should they become law. Will there now be a need to provide separate smoking and vaping areas outside licensed premises, and will the responsible operator now need to divide his outside areas in to smoking, non smoking and vaping areas? Whilst vaping had once been viewed as a positive solution to reducing smoking it already finds itself under challenge in its relative short life span.
In so far as MUP is concerned the Welsh Government would be wise to wait the outcome of the current challenges in the European Courts to the Scottish proposals before committing their proposals to the statute book.
Businesses are encouraged to respond to this potentially far reaching consultation and they have the opportunity to do so by the 24 June 2014 to ensure that their views are considered.