No liberty in addiction, says minister on smoking ban law


Victoria AtkinsImage source, EPA

By Kate Whannel

Political reporter, BBC News

The health secretary has told MPs “there is no liberty in addiction”, as she defended plans to ban today’s teenagers from ever buying cigarettes against critics in her own party.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill would make it illegal for people born in or after 2009 to buy tobacco.

Victoria Atkins said the plan would create a “smoke free generation”.

However, several Tory MPs, including ex-PM Liz Truss, argued it would limit personal freedom.

Conservative MPs will get a free vote on the bill, meaning they won’t be ordered to vote with the government, but the bill is still likely to pass as it has Labour support.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has said she will vote against the bill, and Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan has also signalled her opposition.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used his conference speech in October of last year to unveil his plans to ban people born after 1 January 2009 from buying tobacco products.

On Tuesday, MPs got their first chance to debate the legislation implementing the ban.

Read more about the smoking ban

Ms Truss was one of the first to speak against the bill, telling the House of Commons it risked infantilising people.

“It is very important that until people have decision-making capability while they are growing up that we protect them but I think the whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic.”

Her concern was echoed by some of her fellow Conservative MPs.

Former minister Sir Jake Berry said he was more concerned about “the addiction of the government to telling people what to do” than he was about people addicted to nicotine.

“I want to live in a free society where I am free to make both good and bad decisions.”

Ms Atkins said she understood their concerns about “banning things” but defended the bill arguing: “Nicotine robs people of their freedom to choose.”

“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.”

Earlier in the day, England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty said once people become addicted to smoking “their choice is taken away”.

“When I was a junior doctor doing surgery I remember the tragedy of seeing people, whose legs had had to be cut off because of the smoking that had damaged their arteries, outside the hospital weeping as they lit up because they were trapped by addiction – that is not choice.”

Backing the change in Parliament, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the Conservatives had “adopted” the policy from Labour, demonstrating his party’s “dominance in the battle of ideas”.

The bill also aims to make vapes less appealing to children, with new restrictions on flavours and packaging.

Trading standards officers would also get new powers to issue on-the-spot £100 fines to shops selling tobacco or vapes to children, with all the money raised going towards further enforcement.

Figures show that one in five children has tried vaping despite it being illegal for under-18s, while the number of children using vapes has tripled in the past three years.

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