Yesterday’s smoking debate showcased Westminster’s obsession with nannying

Martin Cullip

November 4, 2022

Yesterday’s House of Commons debate on the government’s ambitions to make England a “smoke free” nation by 2030 shone a spotlight on Westminster’s addiction to over-regulation as a solution to every problem that crosses their desk.

It seems that certain MPs have developed a taste for heavy state intervention – a hangover from COVID that is proving hard to shake. Draconian lockdowns have subsided but left in their place are increased taxes on alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and anything else public health careerists deem inappropriate choices for working people. 

The most recent demonstration of MPs’ eagerness to wield the hammer of state power was seen in yesterday’s backbench debate on smoking. There was a chorus of echoes from MPs all calling for increasingly autocratic measures. These ideas included continuously raising the age range of purchasing tobacco until nobody left in the country can get their hands on cigarettes, more bullying taxes and a raid on industry profits to hand directly to anti-smoking activists.  

This is only one instance of politicians looking at the problem and concluding that the only solution lies in the nanny state getting more involved. MPs were quick to falsely praise tobacco control measures for fast declining smoking rates, despite it being clear that access to choice and safer alternatives, such as heated tobacco and vapes, has been the most effective tool for smoking cessation in recent years – smokers should have more access to these alternatives, not less.  

In an age where private sector innovation is increasingly solving problems, such as energy challenges, these regulations are clearly not the answer. Sin taxes applied to vices most people enjoy are dictated by those who claim to know a person’s lifestyle choices and what is good for them better than they do. All have come about due to policy decisions arbitrarily implemented with the intention of “levelling up” the health of the nation, yet they have been consistently proven to disproportionately affect the poorest in society.  

MPs in yesterday’s debate discussed the toll these taxes are taking in some of the most deprived parts of the country, with people who smoke in these areas spending £3500 on tobacco annually  which is a shocking 15 per cent of their income. Despite these numbers, their default simple solution is to pile more pressure on the less well off via heavy duties in the hope they will simply bow down to the pressure. Throughout the debate, they spoke about how they care – even while proposing ever more crippling costs on those who are already struggling with a cost of living crisis. Only briefly did they refer to less harmful alternatives (mostly in terms of restricting them) and how they can immensely improve lives.  

There is little evidence to suggest this mountain of taxes is having any impact other than just making the country poorer and increasingly more frustrated with government. In 2021, alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales hit a 20-year high despite the overbearing “public health” measures laden on the industry. Similarly, the government’s own assessment predicts that the host of measures planned to tackle obesity will leave the average person consuming three calories less per day. You will have burnt more reading this piece. 

Liz Truss’ fleeting tenure in power promised a “low interventionist Thatcherite” approach, beginning and ending with shrinking the size of the state and its role in people’s lives. Whilst her time in power may have been short, the country should not resign ourselves to discarding these principles just as quickly as we did the late Prime Minister. 

It is understood that if left unchecked, the track record of the state is that it will continue to run amok in everybody’s day to day lives, leave people poorer, and fail to address the important public health objectives it claims to care about. 


  • Martin Cullip

    Martin Cullip is International Fellow at The Taxpayers Protection Alliance's Consumer Center and is based in South London, UK.

Written by Martin Cullip

Martin Cullip is International Fellow at The Taxpayers Protection Alliance's Consumer Center and is based in South London, UK.

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