I ban, therefore I am

Nanny statism is the last refuge of the pointless politician.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Politics UK

Beware a politician in search of a legacy. Rishi Sunak, in a desperate attempt to find something, anything, to point to as an achievement, has taken to banning things that this teetotal, straight-edge prime minister has probably never tried and clearly doesn’t understand.

At the Conservative Party conference last year, Sunak decided that making England ‘smoke-free’ would be his chapter in history. So he announced Britain’s biggest experiment in prohibition for generations: a phased-in ban on tobacco products that will mean today’s 15-year-olds will never legally be able to buy cigarettes.

Now Sunak is going after disposable vapes, too. This is despite the fact that vapes are at least 95 per cent safer than cigarettes and currently help between 50,000 and 70,000 people in England quit cigarettes each year, giving ex-smokers the pleasure of puffing without the considerable health risks. We can’t be having that, it seems.

Granted, Sunak is responding to a rise in vaping among teens and preteens, apparently fuelled by single-use vapes. ‘Think of the children’ is essentially the argument here. But it is already illegal for children to buy e-cigarettes. Why disposable vapes must now be banned for everyone is anyone’s guess.

No one wants 12-year-olds hooked on nicotine or filling the school bogs with DIY dry ice. But surely the answer is tougher enforcement on unscrupulous retailers, not a sweeping ban for all. Regrettably, enforcing the laws we already have is apparently beyond the capabilities of the sclerotic British state.

As it happens, kids being hooked on vapes is a relatively nice problem to have. Smoking rates have collapsed among young people, largely thanks to vaping. The proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who regularly smoke is now just one per cent. Smoking rates among 18- to 24-year-olds halved between 2011 and 2021, just as vaping was really going mainstream.

There are much worse things they could be doing. Indeed, there are much worse things they are already doing. As Christopher Snowdon has pointed out, more kids drink regularly than vape regularly, but no one’s talking about banning booze. Not yet, at least.

Let’s not give them ideas. Because this disposable-vapes ban certainly won’t be the point at which the nanny statists draw the line. Now they want to restrict vape flavours too, on the spurious grounds that they are exclusively marketed at children. Apparently, only kids appreciate sweetly flavoured things.

And so adults must have their choices restricted further because children are consuming products they are already not allowed to consume. And the upshot of it will probably be more smoking, given this is what happens every time governments make it more difficult or expensive or less pleasurable to use e-cigs.

Tellingly, the disposable-vapes ban has been opposed not only by Liz Truss and the Tory Party’s handful of ineffectual libertarians, but also by the anti-smoking zealots at Action on Smoking and Health. Cancer Research UK has published research suggesting the ban could slow the nation’s progress in giving up smoking. Not that Rishi ‘smoke-free’ Sunak has paid any attention.

Why would he? This isn’t about the nation’s health, it’s about our insipid PM finding ways to briefly feel good about himself. Nanny statism is the last refuge of the pointless, inept politician. Sunak may have no vision to speak of, he may not be able to stop the boats, build houses or get schools to stop teaching kids that there are 77 genders, but he can come down hard on Elf Bars, it seems.

The nanny state has ballooned as politics has shrunk. The more politicians have ducked the big economic and political questions – clinging to the orthodoxies of our age while handing power over to unaccountable institutions, judges and bureaucrats – the more they have barged into our lives, dictating everything from what we can eat to what car we can drive to how we can heat our homes.

This began with New Labour, the trailblazer in the politics of lifestyle, which relinquished control over the Bank of England only to demand the right to dictate the smoking policies of pubs up and down the land. Now Blair’s emaciated heirs – of which Sunak is one – draw an absurd amount of meaning from their own petty prohibitionism, whether it’s banning disposable vapes, gas boilers or plastic straws. I ban, therefore I am.

Our current crop of politicians are as pathetic as they are authoritarian. How depressing that this is what a ‘legacy’ now looks like.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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