What’s happening to the proposed smoking ban?

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which would effectively initiate a smoking ban, has been dropped in the run-up to the general election – what does this mean?

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which would effectively initiate a smoking ban, has been dropped in the run-up to the general election – what does this mean?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak first proposed a smoking ban at the 2023 Conservative Party Conference in October last year. He said that, unlike other products, there is ‘no safe level of smoking’. He also added that the measure would ‘save more lives than any other decision we take’.

His proposed Tobacco and Vapes bill would make it offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 in the UK. This would effectively ban the next generation from buying cigarettes. 

It would also make further provisions to reduce youth vaping, including introducing new powers to regulate the flavours, contents and packaging of vaping products.

Mixed responses

The proposed bill received mixed responses, including former prime minister Boris Johnson calling it ‘absolutely nuts’. 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…’

In response, health secretary Victoria Atkins said ‘even cigar-chomping Winston Churchill would see the sense in a smoking ban’. She added: ‘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.’

MPs vote in favour

Following this, the House of Commons voted in favour of the bill in April this year by 383 votes to 67. Those that voted against the bill included 57 of Sunak’s fellow Conservative MPs.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party gave their full support to the bill.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which would effectively initiate a smoking ban, has been dropped in the run-up to the general election – what does this mean?

Wes Streeting, shadow secretary of state for health and social care, said: ‘What more motivation could this house need for once again taking seriously the health of our nation?

‘Today, smoking remains a scourge on our society. Some 75,000 GP appointments every month are to deal with the impacts of smoking. The cost to our economy, after taxes, is £10 billion. Around 80,000 of our friends, neighbours and colleagues lose their lives to smoking every year.

‘It is a lethal addiction, a scourge on society, an enormous burden on our NHS and a drag on our economy, and it is time to consign it to the dustbins of history.’

He continued: ‘Let us act today so that the next generation of young people can live healthier, happier and longer lives than the generations before them.

‘Labour will give our wholehearted support to this Bill.’

As a result, the smoking ban moved a step closer to becoming law, but it was still required to face a number of further stages. This included passing through the House of Lords.

Ditched by government

However, with the Tobacco and Vapes Bill still midway through the legislative process, last month Sunak announced that an early UK general election is to take place on Thursday 4 July.

This meant that the government had to quickly decide which remaining bills to rush through before parliament dissolved, and which to abandon.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill was dropped by parliament. As it had not yet fully passed through the House of Commons and was still due to be introduced to the House of Lords, it would have been a difficult bill to pass through so quickly.

Sunak was reportedly ‘disappointed’ that the bill would not become written law ahead of the upcoming general election.

Despite this, the next government is able to reintroduce it if it chooses to.

Will Labour bring it back?

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: ‘Whether red, blue, yellow or green, the public support for the ban on the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2008 is black and white.

‘This enormously popular public health measure could put our country in pole position to be the first nation to end smoking. This legislation is vital for the future of our children, as it will protect them from vaping as well as smoking.

‘The incoming government, whoever they are, must commit to bringing it back as a priority when they announce their legislative programme in the King’s speech.’

The Labour Party has said that it would revive the Tobacco and Vapes bill if it wins the election on 4 July.

Streeting reportedly said: ‘Labour remains committed to a progressive ban on smoking.

‘We will make sure that young people today are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Tory.’

This was echoed by Liz Kendall, shadow work and pensions secretary, who said: ‘If we’re elected we will make that happen and make it less likely that young people will smoke than vote Tory.’

Calls to revive smoking ban

A recent Yougov analysis was conducted by Action on Smoking and Health with Cancer Research UK funding on the public’s views of the proposed smoking ban.

Carried out on 13,266 UK adults, the survey found that support for the smoking ban averaged around 69%.

In addition, some 52% of current smokers were in support of the bill.

Cancer Research UK has also called on the next government to revive the Tobacco and Vapes Bill.

Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘Public support to raise the age of sale for tobacco is strong. All political parties must commit to introducing the new law in their manifestos.’

‘At the first King’s Speech, whoever wins the election must re-introduce the bill, pass it swiftly through parliament, and implement it so that we can start to reap the benefits of a smoke-free future.

‘The message from people affected by cancer, health professionals and campaigners is loud and clear: we must take action to prevent future generations from a potential lifetime of addiction and disease and reduce cancer deaths.’

What are your thoughts on this story? Do you think the next government should or will revive the Tobacco and Vapes Bill? Share your thoughts with [email protected]

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