Tag Archives: smoke free generation

Wednesday Debate: What do you think of Governments’ plans to ban a generation from buying cigarettes?

It’s Summer 2049. Peter and his friend Mark are doing their weekly shop in Morrisons.

They stop at the cigarette kiosk on the way out. Peter, born on 31 December 2008, shows his compulsory ID card to prove that he is old enough to buy tobacco products. Mark, born just a day later has never been legally allowed to buy them. Instead, he gets them from various sources, including a dodgy bloke down the pub. Every year, he hires a van and hops over to France to fill it up with an unhealthy supply to keep him going for a few months, paying duty to the French Government rather than the UK Government.

All of this assumes, of course, that we aren’t doing our shopping via Elon Musk’s chips implanted in our brains, but never mind.

In a rare move, this week Governments across the UK announced a plan to prohibit anyone born after 1 January 2009 from ever buying cigarettes. I don’t think any of us think it is ok for a 15 year old to buy cigarettes. But do we really want a situation where 40 year old Mark is legally prevented from doing what 40 year old Peter does legally?

Health charities and organisations are delighted at the Government’s plans. Of course they are, because reducing smoking is obviously going to improve public health. They are doing their job.

The British Heart Foundation’s Chief Executive, on their website, said:

When we have known for many decades that smoking kills, it is utterly unacceptable that smoking continues to take so many lives, causing at least 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease every year across the UK.

“On top of this, smoking is a significant driver of health inequalities, disproportionately affecting the health of the poorest in society.

“Tough measures are needed to put a stop to this ongoing heartbreak, and we welcome the UK Government’s bold proposal to create a smoke-free generation by raising the age of sale for tobacco every year.

“It’s right that the Government is taking action to make vaping less appealing. Children and people who have never smoked should never start vaping, which is why we need effective measures that make it harder for young people to buy vapes in the first place.

“There is clear public support for this Bill and we now urge every MP to support this once-in-a-generation legislation when it is brought to the UK Parliament. We hope to see this policy adopted by administrations across the UK.

So what should the Liberal Democrats be saying about this? As a liberal party we hold personal freedom for adults to do things, even if they harm themselves, as a core value. I have to say that I’m surprised that the proposals put forward by three Governments who spend most of their time rolling their eyes at each other have been accepted with so little controversy. Only a few voices, such as our controversial ex Prime Minister Liz Truss, have spoken out, calling the measures “un-Conservative.”

This is one of these issues where you can use liberal principles to reach either conclusion in the debate. You can argue that the health of a generation is more important and that smoking rarely harms just the person doing it and that this measure is important to stop deaths which are entirely preventable.

On the other hand, we know that prohibition rarely works. In the example above, Mark has found ways of obtaining his cigarettes. What is likely to happen is that there will be a flourishing underground market in tobacco products for those who don’t or can’t head across to Europe to replenish their supplies.

As a party, we have long argued for the decriminalisation of Cannabis. Surely supporting this measure would be inconsistent.

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