Sunak’s smoking ban plan clears first Commons hurdle, despite dividing Conservative MPs

Smoking kills around 80,000 people every year and costs the NHS and economy an estimated £17 billion annually, as ITV News' Romilly Weeks explains

Rishi Sunak's plans to stop young people from smoking has cleared its first Commons hurdle, despite dividing Tory MPs.

After a being debated for the first time on Tuesday, MPs voted 383 to 67, majority 316, to give the Tobacco and Vapes Bill a second reading - 57 Conservative MPs were among those against the passing.

The Bill must now go through committee and another vote before going through the same process in the House of Lords.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins claimed MPs have a “duty” to protect the next generation from the illnesses and harms caused by tobacco.

The plan, which would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2009, was one of three key policies announced by the prime minister in his speech to the Conservative Party conference last year.

But the more libertarian-minded members of his party have criticised the the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, raising the prospect that Mr Sunak may need to rely on Labour votes to secure the passage of one of his flagship policies.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, former Home Office minister Robert Jenrick, former prime minister Liz Truss, and former housing secretary Sir Simon Clarke all voted against passing the bill.

Opponents of the ban include Mr Sunak’s predecessors with Boris Johnson describing the plans last week as "nuts", while Liz Truss called them “profoundly unconservative”.

Health Secretary Ms Atkins said she and experts had come to the "conclusion that there is no liberty in addiction" and sought to paint a picture of how smoking-related illness is treated “nearly every minute of every day” in the NHS.

“Nicotine robs people of their freedom to choose," she told the Commons. 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.”

She added: “That is why, through this Bill, we are creating a smoke-free generation that will guarantee that no-one who is turning 15 or younger this year will ever be legally sold tobacco, saving them from the misery of repeated attempts to give up, making our economy more productive and building an NHS that delivers faster, simpler and fairer care.

“I would argue it is our responsibility, indeed our duty, to protect the next generation and this is what this Bill will do.”

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“There is no safe level of smoking and no safe tobacco product,” she said. “In fact, it is the only product that, if it is consumed as the manufacturer intends, will kill two-thirds of its long-term users.”

But Tories critical of the plans continued to question their impact on personal liberties.

But Ms Truss told the Commons the proposed ban was evidence of a “technocratic establishment” that wish to limit freedom and called Mr Sunak's backers “finger-wagging, nannying, control freaks”.

"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," Ms Truss told the Commons.

Mr Sunak's business secretary Kemi Badenoch has said she will vote against the bill, writing on X: "We should not treat legally competent adults differently in this way, where people born a day apart will have permanently different rights."Among other reasons it will create difficulties with enforcement. This burden will fall not on the state but on private businesses."

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he was “shocked” to see the Conservatives propose a tobacco ban but confirmed Labour is giving its “wholehearted” support to the Bill.

He added that his party is “only too happy to defend the health secretary against the siren voices of big tobacco” gathered on the Tory benches.

Conservative MPs have been granted a free vote on the legislation. But Labour has given its backing to the proposals, making it likely that the legislation will clear this first hurdle regardless of any Conservative opposition.

Ahead of the debate, doctors and health charities urged MPs to vote in favour of the proposals, which would ensure that nobody aged 15 or under today would ever be able to legally buy tobacco products.

Professor Steve Turner, president of the Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health, said the Bill would “without a doubt… save lives”.

He said: “By stopping children and young people from becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco, we decrease their chances of developing preventable diseases later in life, and will protect children from the harms of nicotine addiction.

“As paediatricians, we strongly urge MPs to use the important responsibility they have and support this Bill to protect children’s and our nation’s current and future health.”

Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Decisive action is needed to end this ongoing public health tragedy - we urge every MP to vote for this landmark legislation at the Bill’s second reading.”

As well as raising the smoking age every year, the legislation includes provisions that will regulate the display, contents, flavours and packaging of vapes and nicotine products.

Smoking kills about 80,000 people a year and costs the NHS and the economy an estimated £17 billion annually.

According to the government, creating a “smokefree generation” could prevent more than 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases by the end of the century.

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