'Road to hell is paved with good intentions': Kemi Badenoch criticises Sunak's smoking ban after it passes key vote

16 April 2024, 20:30 | Updated: 16 April 2024, 20:57

Kemi Badenoch on voting against Tories' rolling smoking ban

By Christian Oliver

Kemi Badenoch has criticised her own government's smoking ban, saying she does not think 'the end justifies the means'.

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MPs widely voted in favour of Rishi Sunak's flagship smoking ban Bill on Tuesday night, with Badenoch one of the 67 MPs voting against the ban.

Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, said she had "significant concerns" about the legislation - principally "equality under the law and treating adults differently".

Badenoch told LBC's Iain Dale that Rishi Sunak's Tobacco and Vapes Bill "would mean a 50-year-old could do something and a 49-year-old couldn't".

The Bill passed through the House of Commons on its first reading, with MPs voting in favour 383 to 67.

Read More: Liz Truss turns on Rishi Sunak's flagship smoking ban as Tories revolt ahead of key vote

Read More: Minister who reveals she started smoking at 12 says she's not interested in freedom argument against ban

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill will make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1 2009, which covers children who are currently 15 or younger.

The legal age to buy tobacco would then increase each year in a bid to end smoking.

It would not ban smoking outright as anyone who can legally buy tobacco now will be able to continue to do so if the Bill becomes law.

Responding to LBC's Iain Dale's suggestion that it was a significant move for a Cabinet minister to vote against the party line, Badenoch said: "I thought very long and hard about it and I would rather have not voted against. But I thought actually a free vote gives you to step outside of collective responsibility and explain some of your thinking."

The business secretary said she went through "multiple iterations" of how she should vote on the Bill.

"My father died of cancer and we believe that it was a lung cancer that actually spread to his brain," she said.

"I think it's important that people realise that I'm not actually a supporter of smoking. I don't like it and I've never been a smoker. I have seen the damage that it does and I want to see that smoke-free generation."

"But how we draft legislation and the approach we take is just as important as the intentions. You know that phrase: the road to hell is paved with good intentions - it applies to so many areas of policy where we allow the thing we want to do to justify the means. But I don't think the end justifies the means.

The minister said came under no pressure from the prime minister of party whips over how she was voting in the free vote.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss called the government's flagship smoking ban a "virtue-signalling piece of legislation", while Tory minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan has also come out against the Bill.

The Foreign Office minister tweeted: "I have pondered long and hard about how to vote and have decided that in its present form I cannot support it.

"This is just stage one of the legislation and I hope that at the next stage we can make amendments which will make it law which will be more likely to actually deter young smokers without removing freedom of choice for adults.

"My granny smoked all her life, the rest of us have always been opposed to it as a result. But her ability to decide for herself is one which I would not want to remove.

"So what might work? That we raise the age of being allowed to smoke to 21, since most young people start before they are 20.

"Logically this will therefore see far far fewer people take up the bad habit in the first place."

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch arriving in Downing Street, March 19, 2024
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch arriving in Downing Street, March 19, 2024. Picture: Alamy
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is seen in Westminster, March 12, 2024
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is seen in Westminster, March 12, 2024. Picture: Alamy

The Bill has faced a flood of criticism from several other MPs, with Boris Johnson calling it “absolutely nuts”.

Earlier in the day, Liz Truss warned her Tory colleagues, that there were enough "finger-wagging, nannying control freaks" on the opposition benches willing to support the proposals.

She called on the party to instead "stand by our principles and our ideals".

Truss said: "The only other country in the world where such a bill was brought forward was New Zealand under a very left-wing prime minister and that bill has now been reversed under the new Conservative government in New Zealand.

"And I have a message for my colleagues on this side of the House. If people want to vote for finger-wagging, nannying control freaks, there are plenty of them to choose from on the benches opposite, and that's the way they will vote.

"And if people want to have control over their lives, if they want to have freedom, that is why they vote Conservative and we have to stand by our principles and our ideals.

Downing Street has pushed back against Ms Truss's attack on "control freaks" supporting the ban.

A No10 spokeswoman said: "I think the Prime Minister would disagree with that. I think, as he set out right when he first announced this, this is an important change which will save thousands of lives and billions of pounds for the NHS. And the Prime Minister thinks that that is an important thing to do."

Asked why Mr Sunak believes the move is not unconservative, the spokeswoman said: "This has always been a free vote and that's because he respects that people's attitudes to smoking is a matter of conscience - and that's why the approach that we're taking with this legislation has been in line with previous interventions."