It started mundanely enough, with Viscount Ridley raising the thorny issue of the EU proposing to tax e-cigs.
Given that the Prime Minister said in the other place that 1 million people have given up smoking as a result of taking up vaping— including, I believe, my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara—given that the public health benefits are in the order of £74 billion, and given that the main loser from this is the pharmaceutical industry, which is seeing falls in the sales of patches and gums, does he agree with me that pharmaceutical industry lobbying may be behind the attempt to regulate these products too heavily and possibly to shackle them with an excise tax?This was quite clearly referring to moves - highlighted in The Times - to bring e-cigs into the scope of the Tobacco Duties Directive.
But perhaps Lord Prior of Brampton - replying on behalf of the government - doesn't read The Times, because he must have believed Ridley was talking about the TPD instead.
The tobacco regulation that the noble Viscount refers to does not have any proposals for an excise tax - it purely relates to ensuring that these products are used safely and are of a given quality.No, the Tobacco Duties Directive does actually deal with excise tax, strangely enough, and was actually what Ridley was referring to.
It then got weirder.
My Lords, the Minister will know that the impact of this directive is to make it much more difficult for e-cigarettes to be promoted. Why is that, given the clear benefit to public health?This, believe it or not, was from Labour Lord Hunt, the party's health spokesman in the Lords, no less ... the day before his party voted to ignore the "clear benefit to public health" in Wales and in fact deny it as "evidence-free" and "nonsensical".
Lord Hunt was backed up by Lord Brabazon, another Labour Lord.
My Lords, I have already been mentioned during this Question. I am one of those who smoked for many years but has not have a cigarette now for two years because I have taken up using one of these devices. Can my noble friend tell me why these devices are included at all in the tobacco products directive, because they are not a tobacco product?Ooh please Sir! I can answer that one. It's because there is a hideous mare in Labour's EU contingent of MEPs called Linda McAvan who fought like stink to ensure that they were. Why would a Labour Lord not know that, huh?
Next up was then Lib Dem Baroness Walmsley. You know, from the party which officially endorsed e-cigs in their manifesto and whose Welsh representatives bravely tried to head off the stupidity of a vaping ban in public places there. She'll be sound, won't she?
My Lords, although these products are clearly much less harmful than smoking tobacco, they are not entirely harmless. They have a lot of noxious chemicals in them.Erm, everything has noxious chemicals in it, dear. I swear I heard Paracelsus chuckle when reading that bit.
Another Labour Lord - Lord Turnberg - then piped up with this.
My Lords, the noble Lord dismissed the idea of an excise tax, but there is a strong rumour that the EU intends to impose a tax on these products. Will the Government do everything they can to counteract this counterproductive suggestion?Well, Turnberg my pusscake friend, if Labour hadn't done "everything they can" and voted en masse to ensure a "counterproductive" TPD was passed without even knowing the first thing about e-cigs, perhaps we wouldn't be in the position with them being crowbarred into the Tax Directive, now would we? Just a thought.
Meanwhile, Tory Lord Prior continued to miss the point.
My Lords, as I said, there is no proposal for an excise duty as part of the tobacco directive, as I understand it.There's a Products Directive and then there's a Tax Directive, you chump. Please try to wake up, you're part of the government for crying out loud.
Good grief. These people are entrusted with running the country and they barely know what's happening around them! A fox could wander in and nick their marmite sarnies and I fancy they'd be none the wiser.
The issue of passive vaping was broached by Lord Naseby, and the correct reply given by Prior.
My Lords, I think there is evidence that e-cigarettes are more effective than, or as effective as, nicotine replacement therapies, and that my noble friend is right that there is no danger from passive smoking, which is why the inability to smoke in public places does not apply to e-cigarettes.Really, Lord Prior? Then why is it that parasites funded by the government are enthusiastically welcoming their prohibition in public places all over the United Kingdom? Perhaps there is a tax tap there that requires turning off, I dunno.
UKIP Lord Rannoch asked a pertinent question too.
My Lords, do we really need this sort of interfering directive from Brussels? Are we incapable of looking after vaping devices ourselves?Of course we're not, but the EU won't allow us to. Simple.
Lastly, Conservative peer Lord Forsyth stated the bleeding obvious ...
My Lords, is it not perfectly obvious that big business is lobbying Brussels to shut out competition, that e-cigarettes cost less, which limits the impact of highly regressive taxes on tobacco, and that they enable people to save their health? Will my noble friend admit that the Government are powerless to do anything about this?... to everyone except Lord Prior.
No, I do not admit that the Government are powerless to do anything about this.Yes you are chum. You can't refuse to implement the TPD and when (not if) the EU impose duty on e-cigs in their directive, you won't be able to do anything about that either. In fact, George Osborne will most likely do a jig.
You can watch the whole thing here courtesy of @dnglos. Try to keep the facepalming to a minimum.