19 April 2024
Creating a smoke free generation

This week, the House of Commons returned from recess, to debate and vote on several issues including legislation to create the first smokefree generation. 

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill would make it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009 - children aged 15 or younger today. Smoking itself would not be criminalised and anyone who can legally buy tobacco today will never be prevented from doing so in the future. The legislation would also introduce new powers to tackle the sharp rise in youth vaping by restricting vape flavours and their packaging, while maintaining vaping as a key tool in helping existing smokers quit. 

When the Prime Minister first announced this proposal last year, I conducted a survey to get the views of constituents. The results showed 55% of respondents were in favour of the PM’s plan, with 45% against, albeit with a small sample size. 

Part of the reason for me seeking views of constituents was my own position on this issue. My grandfather was a chain smoker who smoked 40-60 cigarettes a day. He succumbed to lung cancer at 61 when I was only 6, so I barely knew him, but was very aware that smoking had killed him.

I am consequently a confirmed non-smoker, having smoked less than a packet of cigarettes in my life, most on a cold and wet night exercise in the cadets aged 16. I have always sought to discourage my children from smoking, with partial success.

But I have also been cautious about voting to prevent people from smoking in the past. I stand for Conservative values and generally believe individuals should make choices about how they live their lives rather than the state. But there are clear limits to this, so governments introduce laws to improve public safety and ban substances harmful to public health.

Having been a Health Minister I am acutely aware of the harmful effect of smoking on hundreds of thousands of individuals being cared for by the NHS each year. Responsible for around 80,000 deaths annually, smoking is the UK’s single biggest preventable killer and costs the NHS and economy an estimated £17 billion a year - far more than the £10 billion annual revenue from tobacco taxation.

So I have come to the conclusion that the PM is right to be brave in taking a significant step last week in banning children born from 2009 from smoking and from purchasing tobacco products during their lives. This will further stigmatise the practice of smoking and over the years ahead lead to a steady reduction in harm and illness to future generations.