Rishi Sunak's flagship smoking ban 'at risk' despite PM pledging that next generation will 'grow up smoke-free'

23 May 2024, 13:02 | Updated: 23 May 2024, 14:32

Rishi Sunak's smoking ban may be pulled
Rishi Sunak's smoking ban may be pulled. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak's flagship smoking ban is at risk because there may not be enough time for it to pass into law ahead of the General Election.

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The controversial Tobacco and Vapes Bill is still in the Commons, having passed its first and second reading earlier this year.

Parliamentarians may not have enough time to pass the bill through the Commons and the Lords by tomorrow evening, when parliamentary business ends ahead of the election on July 4.

The news comes despite Mr Sunak telling LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that the Conservatives "are… making sure that the next generation grows up smoke-free".

He claimed that this was "evidence that I’m prepared to take bold action".

Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House, said that the bill could be included in the parliamentary "wash-up" period before the end of parliamentary business.

She told the Commons: "I know this Bill was supported by a large number of people in the House. It is clearly something that the Prime Minister also feels very passionately about.

Ms Mordaunt said she hopes MPs would be "updated soon".

"Read more: 'When will the Conservatives be banning alcohol?' Nick Ferrari puts minister on the spot after smoking ban vote passes

Read more: Rishi Sunak's flagship smoking ban clears first Commons hurdle despite facing Tory revolt

Rishi Sunak tells Nick Ferrari the next generation will grow up 'smoke free'

The bill would 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.

'I'm ashamed to say Nick, I started smoking when I was 12' Tory MP reveals

Health leaders called on MPs from across the political spectrum to ensure the bill is passed into law before Parliament is dissolved.

Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: "Smoking remains the largest cause of cancer so the Tobacco and Vapes Bill had the potential to save many lives.

"There is now a danger the Bill runs out of parliamentary time which would be immensely disappointing.

"We urge the Government to expedite the legislation in the remaining days of this Parliament and call on all political parties to pledge to reintroduce it immediately under the next government if necessary."

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell added: "The Tobacco and Vapes Bill is one of the most significant public health interventions in living memory. Smoking causes around 150 cases of cancer every day and places huge pressure on the NHS.

"All parties must ensure this world-leading Bill is passed through Parliament before dissolution. Saving lives must transcend politics, and nothing would have a bigger impact on reducing the number of preventable deaths than ending smoking."

On the first reading, MPs voted 383 to 67, giving a majority of 316, in a free vote, as several Conservative MPs rebelled .

That meant those who voted against the government's position would not face punishment. Former PM Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch and Robert Jenrick were among the 57 Tories who voted against the bill on its first reading.

During a Commons debate, Ms Truss said the proposed smoking ban was the result of a "technocratic establishment" that is aiming to "limit people's freedom".

But speaking in the Commons, Ms Truss said: "The reason I am speaking today is I am very concerned that this policy being put forward is emblematic of a technocratic establishment in this country that wants to limit people's freedom, and I think that is a problem."

She added: "The problem is the instinct of this establishment, which is reflected by a cross-party consensus today in today's chamber, is to believe that they, that the Government are better at making decisions for people than people themselves and I absolutely agree that that is true for the under-18s.

"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 and it effectively infantilises people, and that is what has been going on.

"And what we're seeing, is we're seeing not just on tobacco but also on sugar, also on alcohol, also on meat, a group of people who want to push an agenda which is about limiting people's personal freedom, and I think that is fundamentally wrong."

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said in response to Ms Truss' comments in April: "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."

She added: "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."

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

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