Ed Davey: I will vote for lifelong tobacco purchase ban and I hope it passes

There was a twelve minute interview with Ed Davey this morning on BBC Breakfast. Twelve minutes!

You can watch the interview here – move the slider to 01:30:15 (just under halfway through) to see the start.

The exchange started with the news, highlighted by the LibDems, that 72% of car thefts were not attended by the police last year. Ed said the Conservatives are “asleep at the wheel on crime” and that the LibDems would tackle the shortage of detectives.

On the Middle East, Ed said that the Irnanian attack at the weekend was “shocking” and said he was worried about a reply from Israel – he said Israel should be restrained and there should be no retaliation or escalation of the violence. He said Israel has a right to defend itself but should do this “in a smart way”.

Ed said he has decided to vote today for the lifetime ban on buying tobacco products for anyone born after 2009. He highlighted the rise in cancer treatment waiting times and cancer deaths. He said he lost both his parents to cancer (unrelated to smoking) so understood the heartache and devastation that cancer can cause. He said that he accepts this is a difficult question but said the evidence is overwhelming to support the bill, which he hopes will pass.

There was a long section of the interview on the Post Office. Ed described Alan Bates as a “hero” and said he was sorry to Mr Bates for not meeting him for five months, and has reached out to Mr Bates to see him again now. He called for the government to give compensation “properly fairly and generously” to all the sub-post office operators affected. Ed said he wants to see the people who caused the scandal to be “brought to book and held accountable for their lies and perverting the course of justice” either through the ongoing inquiry or the courts.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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39 Comments

  • David Bertram 16th Apr '24 - 11:07am

    Far be it from me to deny Ed and his colleagues their smug self-satisfaction, but the evidence supporting this proposal is not som much ‘overwhelming’ as tenuous-to-absent. Too much, no doubt, to hope a legislator might read this, but others who unlike our MPs may have independent Liberal instincts may find it enlightening:

    https://thecritic.co.uk/all-smoke-and-no-fire/

  • Tristan Ward 16th Apr '24 - 11:07am

    I have to say I think this is a silly thing to do. We will be endlessly defending questions about legality of cannabis, and any ban will be inevitably be unenforced and unenforceable. It pays into the hands of organised criminality as well as being an unwarranted restriction on personal freedom.

    There is also an opportunity (by opposing the Government position) to embarrass the government if it fails to get its legislation through. That’s not so important of course, but to be seen to be propping up Tory policy is not a great look.

  • Good to see the long format interview, but I think Liberals of all stripes will raise their eyebrows at Ed’s support for a total smoking ban. I respect his coming to the view, but I do hope this won’t be a whipped vote for Lib Dem MPs – I think many members will be uncomfortable with the Parliamentary party taking this stance.

  • To think that this man follows in the footsteps of Clem, Jo, and Charles – is painful to imagine….

  • Clem? Let’s not go there. Next you’ll be comparing him to Cyril Smith.

    And which Jo?

  • I know our status as a progressive party has been somewhat tenuous these past 14 years but now I find out that we’re not even a liberal party anymore!

  • @Alex….JG..And as for Clem – without him they’d be no liberal party.

  • Jason Connor 16th Apr '24 - 1:39pm

    I understand it’s a free vote, he said as such on LBC. But on this Ed Davey is right and people’s health, particularly preventing young people from starting this habit, is more important than libertarians and their obsession with extreme civil rights. As someone with crohns, I have to cross the road when I see someone breathing their smoke into the air so as to not inhale it. It’s not about propping up the Conservative party but doing what’s right in the longer term. More hospital admissions for respiratory conditions are caused by smoking more than any other factor and it leads not only to lung cancer but tongue cancer and a whole host of other health difficulties too. So he gets my full support and Labour will be supporting the smoking ban too.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Apr '24 - 1:52pm

    @MartinGray. A bit selective on leaders. What about Jeremy, David, Paddy, Ming, Nick, Tim, Vince and Jo S

  • Tristan Ward 16th Apr '24 - 2:09pm

    @Jason Conner

    Hi Jason,

    Please don’t characterise those of us who think Sunack’s proposals are foolish as “libertarians [with an] obsession with extreme civil rights” . it’s not helpful in getting people to “disagreeing well, ” when many of us have been card carrying liberals and liberal democrats for decades.

    Please don’t think I think smoking is a sensible thing to do , that I think the health risks are minimal or the pain of the diseases over estimated – I did 4 years of post grad cancer research, and my mother died of cancer. But personal freedom is important, and smokers pay towards the costs of treating the diseases cigarettes cause. No one can genuinely say they don’t know smoking is a health risk. Life is not risk free.

    Couple all that with the likelyhood of the ban being essentially ineffective (diminishing respect for the law) and the cigarette trade likely to move to criminal gangs (no health warnings etc etc as well as supplying such gangs with copious income as with current banned drugs). These are respectable, rational and defendable liberal positions, and they are those we use to defend the Party’s support for decriminalisation of cannabis.

    I am very pleased to hear the vote is not whipped. I hope as many of our MPs as possible do not support the Conservative and Labour positions, to make good liberal and antiauthoritarian points.

  • Paul Barker 16th Apr '24 - 2:11pm

    The argument is not about whether smoking is a good thing or not, its about The Century-long “War on Drugs” – a War which the Drugs won, hands down. Banning particular Drugs is a bad, illiberal idea & banning particular forms of those drugs is even sillier.

    This is theoretically a Free Vote but given that its The PMs pet idea it will be seen as as a personal Vote of Confidence.

  • I’ve been scathing of some of Ed’s previous interviews, but happy to say I thought he did a decent job this morning.

    I’m torn over the smoking ban. The evidence of harm and cost to the country is overwhelming, but there are problems with how this fits in with our approach to decriminalising and licensing recreational drugs. I’m glad it’s a free vote, even if all of our MPs decide to vote the same way. I’d have rather the PM prioritised the changing to rules on vaping, but it’s not for him to present us with votes where the decision to support is more straight forward.

    What has swayed me is Chris Witty talking this morning about the illusion of choice when it comes to cigarettes. Their addictive nature means lots of people who smoke, including those who are most harmed by them, don’t want to. They would choose not to smoke if only it were easier to stop. Presumably there are no plans to criminalise under-age smoking, so we are avoiding that specific conflict with our policy on recreational drugs, and specific approaches could factor in if they are addictive, and how addictive.

    I’m still not happy that at some time in the future there could be 56 year olds being asked for ID should they wish to buy cigarettes. But there will be plenty of opportunity to reflect and act on the experiences of this change before that becomes a reality.

  • Martin Gray 16th Apr '24 - 3:29pm

    @Mick T…I picked me favourites Mick – as you do.

  • I hate tobacco, I hate smoking, I hate cigarettes.

    The truth is that banning addictive or enjoyable substances only serves to create criminals. We have criminalised far too many people for using relatively harmless chemicals like cannabis, LSD, and ecstasy. Tobacco is more dangerous than those, but I see no reason to imagine that banning it will work where drug prohibition typically fails.

    As liberals, we should support people’s right to make what we consider bad decisions if those decisions don’t directly hurt others.

    If we really want to reduce smoking deaths, we need to support vaping, which provides the nicotine without all the smoke, tar, and additives that cause the cancer and lung disease in smokers.

  • @ Tom B “As liberals, we should support people’s right to make what we consider bad decisions if those decisions don’t directly hurt others”.

    Unfortunately, Tom, those ‘bad decisions’ can, and do, directly ‘hurt others’ in :

    a) the additional cost to the health service of having to ‘service’ the effects of that habit, currently estimated at approaching £ 4 billion per annum throughout the UK, and

    b) lengthening already over long waiting lists to see a GP or admission to A & E.

    Being a member of a civil society brings obligations and responsiblities as well as rights.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Apr '24 - 4:59pm

    @Martin Gray: Sorry I belatedly realised you probably meant Clement Davies rather than Freud (the disgraced former Liberal MP for Isle of Ely), hence my reference to Hanger Smith. Clement D refused Churchill’s offer of a seat in the Cabinet in 1951, so yes, “without him they’d be no liberal party”.

    So Jo is Joseph rather than Joanne. But please don’t write “JG” as those initials mean someone quite different here in Kingston!

  • @ Pete Bertram I’m afraid your do your case little favour by quoting at length from the thankfully obscure ‘Critic’ Magazine.

    The magazine was founded in November 2019, with Michael Mosbacher, former editor of Standpoint, and Christopher Montgomery, a strategist with the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs as co-editors. It was funded by Jeremy Hosking, a Conservative party donor and its contributors include such choleric characters as David Starkey, Joshua Rozenberg, Peter Hitchens and Toby Young.

    Not exactly expected bed side reading for a progressive Lib Dem.

  • Correction : Mr Bertram is a David not a Pete. Apologies for that bit, Mr Bertram.

  • @David Raw

    It’s well-evidenced that tobacco taxes bring more in than they cost the NHS. Tobacco taxes bring in about £10.4bn, more if you include VAT. (The case is less clear-cut when you consider lost productivity, which is a bigger drain on the economy.)

    But if you care about reducing smoking, there are two effective ways of doing it:

    1) denicotinisation – make smoking less addictive

    2) nicotine replacement, especially through vaping – allow those with nicotine habits to switch to “cleaner” forms of nicotine.

    Tobacco without nicotine is unpleasant and unappealing. Nicotine without tobacco is far, far less dangerous – not totally harmless, but comparable to caffeine.

    Banning cigarettes outright pushes the trade underground, potentially costing the Treasury, and criminalises those who do it. We have tried this with a range of other drugs and it hasn’t worked.

  • Jenny Barnes 16th Apr '24 - 5:59pm

    Banning drugs is not sensible, whether we are talking about nicotine, nitazene, cocaine, alcohol or anything else. We know it doesn’t work and creates criminality, see Prohibition of alcohol in the USA. So evidence based policy says legalise the lot. However, David Raw above makes the point that “those ‘bad decisions’ can, and do, directly ‘hurt others’ …” in other words they have negative externalities. We know how to deal with that: taxation to compensate. Other such bad decisions might include excessive consumption of fossil fuel, purchase of larger, heavier cars than really necessary – I’m sure everyone can come up with examples.
    I read that 6 tonnes of cocaine were seized at Southampton recently – you would get a good few lines out of that !

  • I find Jenny Barnes’ comments persuasive. It isn’t “libertarian” to oppose a policy that could be counterproductive. Good intentions alone are not enough to make a policy work.

  • Presumably we now only support decriminalization of cannabis for people born before 2008? Is it to much for libera MS to actually think about maybe taking a liberal one and standing u to Chris Whitty?

  • @ Martin Bennett “We are not a right wing libertarian party, we are not the party of Liz Truss, we are a modern social Liberal party that considers maximisation of opportunities in terms of ways of thinking, of living and of being innovative, to be beneficial to everyone”.

    I do so wish that were true, Martin, but judging by some of the comments on this thread, and remembering events post 2007, I hae ma doots.

  • Banning cigarettes outright is not going to push the (entire) trade underground. It will directly end much of the trade, while a small proportion of the trade will go underground. What proportion of the trade continues underground will depend on (a) social attitudes, and (b) how effective law enforcement is. Since prevailing social attitudes seem to have moved strongly against smoking ever since the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was introduced, we have good grounds for thinking that the vast majority of the cigarette trade will over time cease rather than going underground.

  • Brandon Masih 16th Apr '24 - 8:59pm

    For those arguing for the age moving process, are you definitely content with the policy going *further* than NZ’s proposal and covering smokeless tobacco, which can be another vector for smoke cessation, and rolling papers? It’s a weird distinction to be caught up in the bill given the focus on smoking cessation and the risks from non combustible tobacco being an order less than smoked tobacco.

    I’ve given my thoughts before on the proposals before on here, but curious in how workabld people really think it’ll be and whether it ends up undermining smoking reduction, when combined with the approaches on e-cigarettes too.

  • In answer to @Brandon Masih, I think the rolling ban will be workable for at least the next 10 years or so. Beyond that maybe less so because as the cut-off age for buying cigarettes increases, it’ll look less and less logical. But that will be something for Parliament to revisit in 10 or so years’ time. Ending the scourge of smoking is a long term and evolving process which has involved numerous changes to the law over the last 50 or so years in response to changing attitudes in society. I don’t therefore believe the new law will sit unchanged on the statute books forever (much as I welcome it today). At some point over the next 10-20 years, society and the place of smoking in society will have evolved to the point where it’ll be appropriate for Parliament to look at the law again.

  • Brandon Masih 16th Apr '24 - 10:37pm

    Thanks for that @Simon R but why do you think it will be workable – geographic nature of NZ probably plays a better role for lower prevalence for illicit tobacco market (ours is at about 16% of total consumption vs 8% in NZ). You could suggest there’s more potential for illicit tobacco market to grow, _especially_ because it covers all tobacco products (which might help reduce the demand for cigs and rolled tobacco etc.) and the aim of a smokefree generation is to cover the combustible ones. It doesn’t seem readily apparent why it would, for the youngest generation that this policy affects, that it’ll do much to deal with the uptake (at least vs the already decreasing trends) after 18 (as it doesn’t truly target before 18 uptake by proxy directly), especially if people are introduced without having to buy their cigarettes etc. themselves first. At least before it passes lords or commons should be looking to rationalise the scope of the age policy i.e only cover combustible tobacco products

  • Peter Davies 17th Apr '24 - 7:31am

    I find it worrying that 28% of car thefts were attended by the police. Even attending the site of one after the event seems pretty pointless.

  • Chris Moore 17th Apr '24 - 7:34am

    In reality, if you are born after 2009 and determined to smoke, you will be able to do so. An older friend or relative will be able to buy the tobacco for you.

    So it’s not an abolition of the freedom to smoke; it’s making it more difficult.

    Many previous measures have been along those lines. And have had positive results.

    in my first job in a government office, smokers showed no regard for non-smokers. Simply lit up and the non-smokers had to breathe in their awful fumes all day. Likewise in gatherings of friends and family. Complete selfishness. The passive smoking of workers in the hospitality and entertainment sectors had serious effects on their health. Transport was awful too.

    All the small steps in legislation to eliminate this sort of obvious abuse have manifestly improved the situation. This is another.

    However, I believe we should let individuals choose their own poison; I’m not in favour of an outright ban. But this measure isn’t an outright ban and there isn’t the capacity in policing or the legal system to enforce it. Nor should it be.

  • Martin – I understand your point I dont think I have ideological objections but this ban could mean that in future young people are buying cigarettes from the same people who sell harder substances rather than from a shop which is a concern. Society has successfully reduced smoking levels and passive smoking already.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Apr '24 - 10:13am

    I was too busy singing last night to join in this debate, but having caught up, I’m glad that two-thirds of our 15 MPs aren’t recorded as having voted for the measure. It is illiberal. I wish Ed Davey and Daisy Cooper had voted against it for that reason, because as others have mentioned, we are a Liberal party.

  • David Symonds 17th Apr '24 - 11:15am

    Whilst reducing smoking is important, the binge drinking and gambling culture in Britain is worse. Excessive drinking not only can wreck your body but inebriated drivers can kill whilst behind the wheel and very drunk people ending up in hospital A&E can insult and upset nursing staff trying to help. Likewise gambling can be addictive so Governments and politicians i think need to concentrate on these other areas first.

  • Alison Crawford 17th Apr '24 - 11:36am

    I cannot watch this. The message says: “Sorry, this episode is currently unavailable”. How did others manage it?

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Apr '24 - 11:58am

    @David Symonds

    Trouble over the drink issue is – it is possible to drink in moderation and do oneself no harm and many people manage to avoid drinking if they’re going to drive.

    I can’t see that ciggies do anyone any good except the tobacco industry promoting them. It appears to me that a great many smokers regret ever starting smoking.

  • Simon R 16th Apr ’24 – 7:53pm:
    Banning cigarettes outright is not going to push the (entire) trade underground. It will directly end much of the trade, while a small proportion of the trade will go underground.

    A large proportion of the trade is already “underground”…

    ’80% of UK smokers have bought illicit tobacco in the past year’ [April 2024]:
    https://www.conveniencestore.co.uk/your-business/80-of-uk-smokers-have-bought-illicit-tobacco-in-the-past-year/690260.article

    …the research revealed that 80% of respondents bought tobacco in the last year that was not subject to UK tax – a 6% increase on the previous year.

    The study also found that nearly three-quarters of respondents have seen an illegal 20-pack of cigarettes priced between £3.00-£6.00, as opposed to the mean average RRP of £15.26 for a legally priced 20-pack of cigarettes, and that 35% of people buy ‘branded’ tobacco at least once a week, with one in five people only buying ‘branded’ cigarettes and Roll-Your-Own tobacco, even though all legal tobacco has been sold in plain packaging in the UK since 2016.

    A rise in tobacco tax along with the cost of living crisis were cited as the main reasons a change in tobacco purchasing habits.

  • John Harris 17th Apr '24 - 1:59pm

    The change in the law will not prevent smoking but as has been said it will make it and the subsequent addiction less likely. There were similar arguments about personal freedom when car seat belt wearing was made compulsory. The long term effects of smoking cost all of us, via the NHS, money that could be used to treat other illnesses.

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