Smoking ban proposal dubbed ‘absolutely nuts’

Smoking ban proposal dubbed 'absolutely nuts'

As the smoking ban proposed by prime minister Rishi Sunak is to be debated today (16 April), several experts and politicians have shared their views on its potential efficacy.

At the Conservative Party Conference in 2023, Rishi Sunak pledged to gradually raise the legal smoking age. This would effectively ban anyone born in 2009 onwards from legally smoking within their lifetime. The British Dental Association (BDA) supported this move, calling it ‘bold and ambitious’.

The bill has not been approved by parliament, but will be considered in the House of Commons today.

Several politicians have spoken out against the proposed ban. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the idea ‘absolutely nuts’ at an event in Canada on 10 April. He said: ‘We are, on the whole, in favour of freedom and it is that single Anglo-Saxon idea of freedom that I think unites conservatives, or should unite conservatives.

‘When I look at some of the things we are doing now, or that are being done in the name of conservatism, I think they’re absolutely nuts. We’re banning cigars. What is the point of banning? The party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars… Donnez moi un break, as they say in Quebec. It’s just mad.’

‘Even cigar-chomping Winston Churchill would see the sense’

Health secretary Victoria Atkins disagreed with this statement, saying ‘even cigar-chomping Winston Churchill would see the sense in smoking ban’.

Writing in The Telegraph on 13 April, she said: ‘Is this policy Conservative, some have asked? I profoundly believe it is. In doing so I draw inspiration from the words of a brilliant former Telegraph correspondent, who became our greatest prime minister.

‘I am referring, of course, to Winston Churchill, who once wrote of his relief from passing from “the tossing sea of cause and theory to the firm ground of result and fact”. One of the foundations of the Conservative Party is that we take tough decisions to protect future generations. That applies to the burdens of debt repayments and growing the economy. It should apply to addiction too.’

She continued to defend the ban, saying it was ‘about protecting future generations from the harms of tobacco’. She said: ‘The impact of this goes way beyond our health.

‘Our analysis shows that the cost of smoking costs the nation £17 billion a year through ill health and sickness. That’s the equivalent of seven pence in every one pound of income received – far outweighing the tax brought in. And we also know that the overwhelming majority of smokers wish they had never started.’

‘Future generations will have to see whether it works’

Some have also questioned the smoking ban on the basis that it will be challenging to enforce. Former health secretary Kenneth Clarke called the policy ‘admirable’ but foresaw problems with the yearly increase mechanism.

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: ‘You will get to a stage where if you are 42 years of age, you will be able to buy them but someone aged 41 will not be allowed to. Does that mean you will have to produce your birth certificate? It may prove very difficult to enforce. Future generations will have to see whether it works or not.’

Cancer Research UK has warned that the tobacco industry is lobbying politicians in an attempt to derail the proposed ban. Reported in the Guardian, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: ‘We know the tobacco industry is working quite hard to dilute the bill. MPs and peers have briefed us that members of the tobacco industry are seeking to make arguments [against] and amendments to the bill as it goes through the passage of parliament.’

She also discussed the ‘variety of tactics’ reportedly being used by tobacco companies. These included attempting to sway MPs’ votes, promoting a guaranteed review of the legislation in future and seeking support for raising the smoking age to 21 instead of an outright ban. Also, proposing exemptions to the ban such as excluding cigars.

Illicit tobacco sales

The Tobacco Managers’ Association (TMA) suggested that the smoking ban would lead to increased illicit activity around tobacco sales. According to a recent study by the TMA, 80% of respondents had bought tobacco that was not subject to UK tax in the past year. Almost three quarters of respondents had seen an illegal 20-pack of cigarettes available for three to six pounds compared to the average RRP of £15.26.

TMA director Rupert Lewis said: ‘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. 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.’

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