UK to introduce smoking ban bill

Rishi Sunak’s proposed public health policy, which aims to prohibit the next generation from purchasing cigarettes and smoking, is set to be presented in parliament this week, anticipating resistance from Conservative rebels. While the policy garners substantial support within the Conservative party, the extent of opposition from libertarian Tories, including Liz Truss, remains uncertain.

Sources engaged in lobbying against the bill suggest that up to 80 to 100 MPs are discontent, potentially placing Sunak in a position where he would need Labour’s support for what could become one of his significant policy legacies. Tory MPs planning to challenge the bill indicated that the level of opposition would hinge on its contents and potential amendments.

The initial reading of the bill is scheduled for Wednesday in the House of Commons, typically a procedural step without debate. However, it may provide insights into the degree of discontent among Tories. The proposed plan entails incrementally raising the legal smoking age, with individuals born on or after January 1, 2009, being unable to purchase cigarettes in England.

Since Sunak unveiled the policy at the Tory party conference last year, the Conservative government of New Zealand has announced plans to reverse its own smoking ban policy, which served as a model for the UK proposal.

Some Conservative backbenchers, such as John Hayes, questioned the practicality of the legislation, highlighting inconsistencies in determining who can purchase tobacco based on age. Despite such concerns, Sunak may find support among MPs who have shifted their stance on health interventions.

Alun Cairns, a former secretary of state for Wales, admitted a change in perspective, moving from opposing such bans to recognizing the public health rationale behind them. Other Conservative MPs, like Flick Drummond, echoed similar sentiments, citing the significant health and financial burdens associated with smoking.

While recognizing the traditional Conservative inclination against state intervention, Drummond emphasized the pressing need to address smoking-related health challenges, reflecting broader public sentiment. A recent survey by the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) indicated strong public support (71%) for the goal of making Britain smoke-free, underscoring the momentum behind such measures.

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