Sunak faces smokefree generation revolt

Sunak faces ‘smokefree generation’ revolt

Rishi Sunak faces the prospect of another backbench rebellion on Tuesday as his plans to stop young people from ever smoking come before the Commons for the first time.

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 ban, raising the prospect that Mr Sunak may need to rely on Labour votes to secure the passage of one of his flagship policies.

Opponents of the ban include Mr Sunak’s immediate predecessor, Liz Truss, who has previously described the plans as “profoundly unconservative”.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson also described the plans last week as “nuts”.

Conservative MPs have been granted a free vote on the legislation, and several are expected to oppose the Tobacco and Vapes Bill when it has its first full debate in the Commons on Tuesday.

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.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, said: “Too many people know someone whose life has been tragically cut short or irreversibly changed because of smoking which, despite significant progress, remains the UK’s biggest preventable killer.

“The trust is that there is no safe level of tobacco consumption. It is uniquely harmful and that is why we are taking this important action today to protect the next generation.

“This Bill will save thousands of lives, ease the strain on our NHS, and improve the UK’s productivity.”

Backing the Bill, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Rishi Sunak is too weak to stand up to the Liz Truss wing of his party, so has given his MPs a free vote.

“Though Tory MPs may oppose this measure, Labour will not play politics with public health. Labour will vote through this Bill, so that young people today are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Tory.”

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