Smoking Ban Shelved: A Breath Of Fresh Air?

Oliver Dean

June 12, 2024

Freedom-loving Brits were all smiles on the 23rd of May, as the generational smoking ban was dropped ahead of the General Election. Eager to leave a legacy that sets him apart from his predecessors, Rishi Sunak had been committed to passing the bill which would create a smoke free generation through banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after the 1st of January 2009. But his decision to call a snap General Election on the 4th of July means the bill will probably not pass due to the dissolution of Parliament.

That is not to say that the bill is dead in the water, however. The Labour Party, who are set to be in government after the election, have supported the legislation at every stage of the process. With a Starmer-led government on the horizon, there is a chance that they’ll salvage what remains of the bill and enact it under their own terms. This would be a catastrophic blunder. Not only is this bill an attack upon our most basic freedoms, it simply will not work on its own terms.

The primary issue here is one of liberty. If passed, the bill would treat grown adults like children who cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. In the UK, an 18 year old can get married, drive a car and potentially sacrifice their life for King and Country. Yet this bill would create a society where a 41 year old is asking a 42 year old to buy him a pack of cigarettes. If it sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is.

What gives the government the right to tell me what I can and cannot put in my body? The government’s role is not to nanny us and restrict our choices. In a much more family-friendly version of a popular phrase, the British public should be allowed to ‘fool around and find out.’ The bill is a slap in the face to the British public with a clear message attached: the government thinks it can run your life better than you can.

As if infantilising the British public was not enough, the government appears to be ignorant of the abject impracticalities of its proposal. Writing for ConservativeHome, Harry Phibbs highlights how shopkeepers are, “already struggling with high Business Rates and an epidemic of shoplifting” and how the bill will add the, “hassle of asking for an ever-growing number of customers to provide ID.”

If this didn’t raise any alarm bells, take a real world example with the failure of the generational smoking ban in New Zealand. Discussing the repeal of the ban, Prime Minister Christopher Lux highlighted that the scheme just, “doesn’t work” because, “a 36-year-old can smoke but a 35-year-old can’t.”

In simple terms, this bill is not only illiberal, it is unworkable. Yet, in the blind pursuit of electoral success, neither the Conservatives nor Labour seem willing to acknowledge this reality.

Neither party seems willing to discuss the financial black hole this bill would leave in the taxpayer’s wallet either. OBR figures estimate that the finances raised from Tobacco Duties in 2024-25 will be £8.8 billion – almost the size of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s entire budget. The public may very well support the bill, but the revenue that tobacco duties bring in is essential for our public sector to operate. This bill is not just bad policy; it’s an economic suicide pact that our public services cannot afford.

Both parties also fail to recognise how this bill will expand the current black market. Between 2021 – 2022, one in nine manufactured cigarettes and one in three hand-rolled cigarettes were bought illegally. The ban would take power and control away from legitimate, legally-operating companies and give it to dangerous, illegal, criminal gangs who will forgo safety for profits. The government preaches about how this bill will make the people of Britain safer, yet they don’t understand the power they are giving to violent and dangerous criminals.

Whoever wins the General Election on the 4th of July is going to need to seriously reconsider their stance on the smoking bill. Both sides appear to support it because of the electoral boost it provides them with, but once the showbiz of the election ends, the government is going to be left with a choice. Implement a bill that: infantilises the public, leaves a black hole in public finances, and that is quite literally unenforceable; or kill the bill. The choice is clear, but maybe both parties are just seeing smoke and mirrors.


Written by Oliver Dean

Oliver is a first year student at the LSE studying History and Politics.


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