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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rishi Sunak’s tobacco crackdown: A bold move or attack on personal freedoms?

The House of Commons has voted by 383 to 67 in favour of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill – which paves the way for a ban on smoking.

However, the Bill has proved divisive, as 57 Tory MPs voted against it, despite it being a key policy by PM Rishi Sunak.

The new Bill, which has tough new measures on both smoking and vaping, has sparked fierce debate from both health experts and leading MPs, with some seeing it as an attack on personal freedoms, and others as a vital step to improve public health and reduce stress on the NHS.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak put forward the policy to further his commitment to the fight against the damage caused by smoking – which is currently estimated to cost the NHS £2.4 Billion annually and is a recognised cause of 80,000 deaths a year. In a statement on the policy, he has said:

“If we want to build a better future for our children we need to tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death: smoking. That is why, alongside new measures to curb the alarming rise in youth vaping, we are delivering on our commitment to create a smokefree generation and stop our kids from getting hooked on harmful cigarettes and other nicotine products.”

Although the actual act of smoking will not be banned, strict new measures will be introduced. The legal age for buying cigarettes will increase by one year, every year. This would effectively stop people born after 2009 from ever being able to purchase cigarettes.

There will also be a crackdown on underage sales enforcement, and will impose new requirements on vapes, which although not as harmful as cigarettes, have given rise to worries over their use by under 18s.

However, there has been a considerable backlash against the Bill from many quarters, including opposition from leading conservative and ex – Prime Minister Lizz Truss.

On her X / Twitter page, she made her position clear: “I am voting against the Government’s bill to ban smoking for everyone because I believe adults should make their own decisions.

Conservatives should be defending the freedoms and liberty of constituents, not telling them what to do.”

Ms Truss also previously made a speech in the commons, warning MPs not to be swayed by “finger wagging, nannying control freaks.”, and has described the Bill as ‘unconservative’.

Also opposing the Bill was Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, who said on Twitter / X: “Smoking rates are already declining significantly in the UK and I think there is more we can do to stop children taking up the habit. However, I do not support the approach this bill is taking and so will be voting against it.”

However, there has been a positive response from leading public health figures. The Asian standard contacted Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, for her opinion:

“Too many people know someone whose life has been tragically cut short or irreversibly changed because of smoking, which despite significant progress remains the UK’s biggest preventable killer.

“The truth is that there is no safe level of tobacco consumption. It is uniquely harmful and that is why we are taking this important action today to protect the next generation.

“This Bill will save thousands of lives, ease the strain on our NHS, and improve the UK’s productivity.”

A major motivation behind the smoking ban is its proven link to cancer. The Asian Standard obtained a statement from Dr Ian Walker, Executive Director of Policy at Cancer Research UK: “The vote is a critical step towards the UK becoming a world leader in tobacco control. By voting in favour of the age of sale legislation, MPs will be putting us on the right side of history and helping to create the first ever smokefree generation. Smoking is still the leading cause of cancer in the UK. Now is the time to take action, end cancers caused by smoking and save lives.”

Giving further historical perspective on the Bill, Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said:

“The Tobacco and Vapes Bill being voted on today is radical but, hard as it is now to believe, so were the smokefree laws when they were put before parliament. Parliamentarians can be reassured that the public they represent back the Bill.

“New research just published by ASH shows that the majority of tobacco retailers and the public, including smokers, support the legislation and the smokefree generation ambition it is designed to deliver.  This historic legislation will consign smoking to the “ash heap of history.”

The next step for the Tobacco and Vaping Bill will be for The Public Bill Committee will scrutinize the Bill line by line, with the first sitting expected on 30 April 2024, and the Committee scheduled to report by 23 May 2024

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