DUP MP Jim Shannon clarifies his stance on smoking ban after verbally supporting it then voting against it

DUP MP Jim Shannon has explained why he voted against the government’s planned smoking ban despite voicing support for it.
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He has also said he wants to see an amendment which will guarantee that, if it does get adopted, the bill will apply to Northern Ireland just as the rest of the UK.

The second reading of the Tories’ bill to phase out tobacco altogether was passed by 383 to 67 in the Commons on Tuesday night, with most of those 67 being Tory MPs unhappy about the leadership’s drive to curtail people’s access to it.

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Smoking would be phased out year-by-year by continually raising the age limit, with nobody who was born after 2009 ever being eligible to buy tobacco.

Jim Shannon in the Commons, April 16, 2024Jim Shannon in the Commons, April 16, 2024
Jim Shannon in the Commons, April 16, 2024

The bill would also curb – but not eliminate – access to vaping items (by criminalising the provision of them to under 18s, and restricting their packaging and display locations in shops).

Added to the Tory rebels were all seven DUP MPs (Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had been the eighth, but is currently suspended from the party and was not present).

The two SDLP MPs – Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna – did not vote, while Alliance’s Stephen Farry backed the bill.

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Mr Shannon began his contribution to the debate by saying: “First of all, I commend the Secretary of State and the government for bringing forward this legislation. I support it because I believe it is right.”

However, he added that he “had been contacted by vaping groups” and that they were concerned about “restricting vape users and smokers looking to switch”.

He asked if the government “intend to develop a vape retailer and distributor licensing scheme” as part of the bill.

The health minister Victoria Atkins did not answer this, but thanked him for his support for the bill and said: “We understand the level of lobbying that has been undertaken by both the vaping industry and the tobacco industry. We know that the vaping industry has pushed that as one of its lines.”

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When it came to the vote, Mr Shannon joined his party colleagues in opposing it.

Asked why, he told the News Letter he did support the bill, “in principle”.

“I was after a vapour licencing [clause] which would ensure the wide range of vaping opportunities for those of different tastes would be reduced, and ensure those who are illegally selling vaping products would not gain any advantage with this type of legislation,” he said, referring to the part which would outlaw tobacco.

"In my intervention to Victoria Atkins I asked her that very question. She did not give me the answer. Because of that, I then felt that we as a group should vote ‘no’ for it – which of course we did.”

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The question of whether the bill will apply to Northern Ireland is fraught with complexity. The government has listed some segments of the bill as applying across the UK, and some as requiring approval from Stormont.

Last month UUP health minister Robin Swann said it had been “confirmed” to him that “NI will be included in Westminster’s Tobacco and Vapes bill, subject to approval by the NI Assembly”.

Mr Shannon said he will be seeking an amendment to give explicit assurance that NI will be covered by the bill because “we’ve been told that this legislation will not extend to NI”, as well as an amendment about the licensing of vape sales.

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