Why is the party of Winston Churchill banning smoking?

Sunak’s smoking ban is a depressingly fitting epitaph to this authoritarian and unprincipled Tory government.

Christopher Snowdon

Topics Politics UK

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Today, MPs will vote on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. The result is a foregone conclusion since Labour has promised to support it and their members will comfortably outnumber the handful of Conservative MPs who didn’t get into politics to ban things. The flagship policy in the bill is a ban on anyone born after 2008 from ever legally buying a tobacco product. This will gradually extend the war on drugs to include tobacco, but nearly everybody in Westminster seems to be relaxed about that. In an insult to the public’s intelligence that diminishes us all, the latest health secretary, Victoria Atkins, has claimed that Winston Churchill would approve of his party banning cigars (Churchill’s grandson disagrees).

After spending 14 years achieving so little, this Tory government is using its last few months in office rushing through a policy borrowed from the New Zealand Labour Party, one which the British Labour Party would otherwise push through parliament when it wins the next election. It all seems perverse. The ban will not have any effect until 2027 so there is no need for haste, but it is in keeping with the Tories’ longstanding approach of owning the lefties by introducing Labour policies before Labour gets the chance to do so itself.

The legislation itself has an unmistakable end-of-term feel to it. Not only does it also, absurdly, ban the sale of cigarette papers to those born after 2008, but its definition of cigarette papers includes ‘anything intended to be used to encase tobacco products’. Since no one has bothered to work out the ‘vapes’ part of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, the legislation simply says that any future health minister – whoever he or she is – can impose whatever ‘prohibitions, requirements or limitations’ on e-cigarette packaging, flavours, production and sale they fancy, without the inconvenience of having to ask parliament. This amounts to an enabling act for Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, who has already expressed his desire to ‘come down on the vaping industry like a tonne of bricks’.

Almost hilariously, the government has made no attempt to predict the impact of tobacco prohibition on the black market, because it doesn’t think it will be an issue. Nor has it seriously considered the risk of vapers returning to cigarettes once vapes have been subjected to taxes and flavour bans, despite ample evidence that both policies will lead to more people smoking. Last week, the Regulatory Policy Committee took the government’s impact assessment to task for these oversights, but it will make no difference to the vote. It is a feelgood policy and half the Tory Party is demob happy. It is doubtful whether most people understand the policy, let alone consider the unintended consequences. It has been pitched as a way of stopping 15-year-olds smoking. It has been illegal for 15-year-olds to be sold tobacco for over a century, but given this government’s tendency to ban things that are already banned, the public could be forgiven for thinking that there is no more to it than preventing the sale of cigarettes to children, rather than total (eventual) prohibition.

Rishi Sunak reportedly wants the generational tobacco ban to be his legacy. In this, he seems to have been inspired by Tony Blair, who broke a manifesto commitment when he banned smoking in all pubs in 2007. Blair was nevertheless destined to be remembered for the Iraq War and Sunak will probably be remembered for driving the Conservative Party towards electoral oblivion. But as the consequences of this ridiculous anti-smoking ruse unravel in the years ahead, the generational tobacco ban and the senseless war on vapers will be a fitting epitaph to this shabby, authoritarian and unprincipled government.

Christopher Snowdon is director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is also the co-host of Last Ordersspiked’s nanny-state podcast.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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