Published On: Sat, Apr 13th, 2024

Boris Johnson ridicules generational smoking ban as ‘mad’ | Express Comment | Comment

Smoking Prohibited Sign - No Smoking Road Sign

Legislation which goes before MPs this week would ban anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes. (Image: Getty)

Champions of Rishi Sunak’s plan to ban smoking this week will fight to convince sceptical Tories it will save the country enough cash to employ hundreds of thousands more doctors and nurses.

Legislation which goes before MPs this week would ban anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes – but has been blasted by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “mad” and “absolutely nuts”.

Defenders of the plan to increase the minimum age for buying tobacco every year say that while smoking raises around £10billion a year in tax revenues it costs the country a minimum of £17billion.

The Department for Health and Social Care has calculated this is enough to pay the annual salaries of half a million nurses and 390,000 GPs and fund 400 million GP appointments.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told the Sunday Express: “Nobody wants their child to smoke – it’s the biggest cause of ill health, disability and death, and it’s entirely preventable. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime change that will transform future generations, by ensuring they will never be gripped by smoking addiction.

“Stopping the next generation from being sold tobacco will also have substantial economic benefits – as smoking currently cost our economy around £17billion a year in lost earnings, unemployment and early death.

“Smoking and vaping is too easily accessible for young people, and once you’re gripped by addiction, it’s incredibly difficult to stop. This Bill is about protecting our children’s futures, supporting their health and strengthening the wider economy.”

The Government argues phasing out smoking will be good for families, claiming the average smoker spends around £47 a week on tobacco – around £2,450 a year. It says that stopping smoking boosts people’s disposable income by around nine per cent.

Her department claims the policy could deliver productivity gains of £20.5billion by 2056 alongside major health benefits.

However, ex-PM Mr Johnson has expressed consternation that the “party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars”. And former Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe told GB News the plan was “completely barmy” and predicted it “won’t survive”.

Writing in the Sunday Express, Reform UK MP Lee Anderson pledged to vote against it despite being an “ex-smoker and cancer survivor” because he believes in the “British public’s right to choose”.

In a sign of the disquiet on the Tory benches, Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense group of Tory MPs, called on the Government to rethink the legislation. He suggested the minimum smoking age could be raised to 21 but criticised plans to continue increasing it.

Sir John said: “I can see why the Government wants to curb smoking, but it has to do that in a way that is defensible and reasonable. The idea that somebody smoking a cigar at the age of 40 is somehow going to be acting illegally is both bizarre and unenforceable.

“It’s just not reasonable to say a person should be prosecuted in middle age because they are a year younger than the legal limit, which is what this Bill would eventually lead to.”

LEE ANDERSON: The generational smoking ban sums up all that is wrong with the current government. 

Lee Anderson MP

‘The generational smoking ban sums up all that is wrong with the current government.’ (Image: Getty)

Nothing better sums up how lost this current Conservative government is than its policy on smoking. The British people want a plan for reducing illegal immigration, shortening NHS waiting times and tackling rising knife crime, but the Conservatives continue to focus on virtue signalling and distraction politics. The Prime Minister should be focusing on the issues that people care about.

The generational smoking ban is just the latest diversion from bigger problems. This is a policy that is inherently unconservative, unenforceable and that will actually hit the poorest communities hardest.

I was not surprised to read in the Express that as many as 70 Conservative MPs are unhappy with the proposed policy. Like many of them, I don’t recognise the party the Conservatives have become. It is a far cry from the one I joined in 2019, which oversaw an 80-seat majority.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill is one that I will be voting against, and opposing this kind of policy is precisely the reason I have joined the Reform Party. At Reform, we will focus on the issues that matter to ordinary, hardworking Brits, not the Prime Minister’s pet vanity projects.

As an ex-smoker and cancer survivor, I am fully in favour of reducing smoking rates, but as a true conservative and elected voice for the people of Ashfield, I believe in the British public’s right to choose. It isn’t the job of Westminster politicians to decide what people spend their paycheck on.

Smoking rates in the UK are at their lowest levels on record. According to official statistics, there has been a 7.3% decrease in the number of smokers since 2011. Our smoking rates are much lower than the rest of Europe – so what problem is this policy fixing? Worse still, it opens the door for more government interference in people’s lives. There are already rumours of higher sugar taxes, so what’s next to be banned? Chocolate? Fizzy drinks? Beer?

Prohibition has never worked and we risk igniting a war between criminal gangs to control a growing black market in the UK. That’s precisely what has happened in Australia. High prices and punitive restrictions have led to open gang warfare. In the state of Victoria, police are investigating a firebombing a week linked to the illicit tobacco trade. The UK government has no plan to combat this, with Trading Standards woefully underfunded and little chance of police having the time to enforce the new measures.

At a time when illegal immigration into the UK continues to soar, we cannot provide further incentives for criminal gangs to enter this country.

It’s a problem we are already failing to deal with. Almost six billion counterfeit cigarettes were smoked in the UK in 2022, the highest volume on record. And make no mistake, it’s the poorest parts of the country that are most at risk from the black market. We already tax tobacco to such a high rate that many people are turning to cheaper, illegal alternatives. This is a policy that will widen health inequalities in the UK’s most deprived areas, not reduce them as the government claims.

The reaction to me joining Reform and the surge we are enjoying in the polls sends a clear message. This country is fed up with nanny state politics, shortcut policies and the lack of direction from this government. The people of Britain want their country back.

  • Lee Anderson is MP for Ashfield

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