Labour's plan to ban the sale of cigarettes is a condescending kneejerk reaction
The sale of cigarettes could be phased out under Labour proposals to improve public health (Alamy)
Last week we learnt that The Labour Party will look at banning the sale of cigarettes if Sir Keir Starmer secures the keys to No 10 at the next general election.
Now, by no means do I expect this to be a leading policy priority within any party’s election manifesto, but this return of nanny state thinking concerned me greatly.
It is a strongly held belief of mine that a government should whenever possible, look to protect our individual freedom of choice, rather than casually discard it.
Banning the sale of cigarettes to future generations just won’t work
We have been through a lot over the last couple of years and I’m acutely aware life is tough for people at the moment. As a result, we need serious discussion and debate on people’s priorities, the stuff that if we get right, will genuinely improve people’s day-to-day lives.
How do we get the cost of living challenge under control? How do we ensure we have a world-leading NHS and education system? How do we grow the economy so that opportunity is spread across the nation equally? This is where efforts and focus should be, not the patronising and mundane “we know what’s better for you” initiatives we hear from Labour all too often.
Even with the best will in the world, banning the sale of cigarettes to future generations just won’t work, it’s a complete non-starter. If anything, it would simply force the sale of tobacco underground, falling into the lap of criminal gangs across the United Kingdom. Our NHS is undoubtedly in need of reform and support, the fact Labour party are even looking at bans on our freedom of choice as a priority is frankly ridiculous.
As England edges towards our smokefree 2030 ambition, it is of integral importance we not only protect the individual’s right to freedom of choice, but we also acknowledge the practical realities at play and the resulting nuanced solutions required.
We know that millions of people in the UK smoke. I believe that rather than the condescending kneejerk reaction to tell smokers what they can and can’t do, we should instead let them know about all the alternatives that are now available. Vapes are great but there are also other alternatives such as heated tobacco and nicotine pouches, so smokers can find a solution that works for them. These alternatives can have an actual impact on smoking prevalence across the country, helping to achieve the smokefree 2030 target.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to deny that smoking is harmful.
There has been vast growth in innovative technologies such as vaping, and heated tobacco that allow people to choose an alternative to cigarettes, should they want to. Improving access and awareness of alternatives, alongside support for those who wish to quit altogether, is how you actually solve a public health problem like smoking, not through more nanny-statism.
The Labour party simply did not think this through, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the months to come we see a steady climb down before their latest London-centric policy falls into the wastepaper bin.
As public servants during difficult times, it’s our duty to focus on the priorities and interests of the electorate. I can safely say I have never knocked on a constituent’s door and been met with a request to ban cigarettes and I am pretty confident I never will.
Scott Benton is the Conservative MP for Blackpool South.
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