17 Apr 2024

UK MPs back smoking ban for those born after 2009

8:37 am on 17 April 2024

By Kate Whannel and Sam Francis, political reporters for BBC News

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Photo: 123rf.com

British MPs have backed a plan to ban anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes, effectively ensuring it will become law.

The measures, championed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, survived despite opposition from several leading Tory figures - including two ex-PMs.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told MPs "there is no liberty in addiction" as she defended the plans.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill passed by 383 votes to 67.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Atkins said the plan would create a "smoke free generation".

However, several Tory MPs, including former prime minister Liz Truss, voted against the bill, arguing it would limit personal freedom.

Last week, ex-prime minster Boris Johnson called the smoking ban "absolutely nuts" during a speech at a Conservative conference in Ottawa, Canada.

"When the party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars, donnez-moi un break as they say in Quebec, it's just mad," he said.

Conservative MPs were given a free vote on the bill, meaning they were not ordered to vote with the government. But full support by Labour's front bench ensured the measures passed.

There are still several more steps needed before it becomes law, such as votes in the House of Lords, but it is possible that the bill could now become law before the general election, expected in the second half of 2024.

Labour's shadow health and social secretary Wes Streeting accused Sunak of "putting the bill at risk" by granting a free vote "because he is too weak to stand up to the Liz Truss-wing of his party".

"If we are privileged enough to form the next government, Labour will implement this ban, so young people today are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Conservative," he added.

In total 57 Tory MPs voted against the bill, including Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Conservative Party Deputy Chair Jonathan Gullis.

Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan also signalled her opposition but ultimately abstained on the vote.

Lee Anderson, an ex-deputy chair of the Conservative Party who defected to Reform UK last month, also voted against the bill.

Sunak used his conference speech in October of last year to unveil his plans to ban people born after 1 January 2009 from buying tobacco products.

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The bill also places new restrictions on certain flavours of vapes. Photo: AFP

'Free society'

The debate on Tuesday was MPs' first chance to debate the legislation implementing the ban.

Truss was one of the first to speak against the bill, telling the House of Commons it risked infantilising people.

"It is very important that until people have decision-making capability while they are growing up that we protect them but I think the whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic."

Her concern was echoed by some of her fellow Conservative MPs.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, tipped as a potential contender to run for the Tory leadership, also came out against the policy.

On social media he said he was against the bill because he "believes in personal freedom".

"I also believe in the principle of equality under the law. A phased ban of smoking would be an affront to that," he added.

Former minister Sir Jake Berry said he was more concerned about "the addiction of the government to telling people what to do" than he was about people addicted to nicotine.

"I want to live in a free society where I am free to make both good and bad decisions."

Atkins said she understood their concerns about "banning things" but defended the bill, arguing: "Nicotine robs people of their freedom to choose."

"The vast majority of smokers start when they are young, and three quarters say that if they could turn back the clock they would not have started."

Earlier in the day, England's chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty said once people became addicted to smoking "their choice is taken away".

"When I was a junior doctor doing surgery I remember the tragedy of seeing people, whose legs had had to be cut off because of the smoking that had damaged their arteries, outside the hospital weeping as they lit up because they were trapped by addiction - that is not choice."

The bill also aims to make vapes less appealing to children, with new restrictions on flavours and packaging.

Trading standards officers would also get new powers to issue on-the-spot £100 (NZ$211) fines to shops selling tobacco or vapes to children, with all the money raised going towards further enforcement.

Figures show that one in five children has tried vaping despite it being illegal for under-18s, while the number of children using vapes has tripled in the past three years.

This story was originally published by BBC News.

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