A ban on cigarettes is the last thing we need right now

Call me old fashioned, but I feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to make sweeping reforms to what citizens of a country do in their spare time, when we have so few joys left

Ryan Coogan
Wednesday 17 April 2024 15:04 BST
Minister details support for smoking ban as she reveals she had first cigarette aged 12

Let’s get this out of the way early: smoking is obviously bad. It’s responsible for almost half a million hospital admissions each year, causes around 15 per cent of cancers, and kills about eight million people worldwide every year. It’s gross, it’s expensive, is it’s growing less and less socially acceptable by the day – and rightfully so.

But I don’t think we should ban it.

Or, at least, we shouldn’t ban it in the way that Rishi Sunak effectively has – by forcing through a vote on legislation which will, if passed, mean that anyone aged 15 or younger will never be able to buy cigarettes legally. Several members of Sunak’s own party, including Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman, voted against the measure, while others including Penny Mordaunt abstained. This very newspaper came out against the idea of a ban.

Far be it from me to agree with Suella Braverman, but I do think that the naysayers and abstainers may have been on to something here. Prohibition is one of those things that reactionaries always propose as the solution to all our social ills, when in practice all it really does it force people to turn to black markets run by gangs and criminals to buy dangerous, unregulated versions of the same products that they’d been enjoying hassle-free for years. Sorry grandad, the SuperMart doesn’t stock Lamberts anymore – looks like you’re going to have to head to the docks and barter with Mick the Knife if you want to unwind after the football.

Of course, I’m being a little flippant – your grandad should be fine. The Bill is designed only to affect the next generation of smokers – to stop those under 15 from picking up the habit before they start. It’s a nice idea, in theory.

But in practice, when has telling a bunch of kids that they can’t do something ever stopped them? Tory MP Simon Clarke brought up a similar point recently, pointing out that a ban risks making smoking – something that was already falling out of fashion among Gen Z and Gen Alpha – cool again. He’s got a point. Kids are naturally rebellious, and while many of them eschewed smoking because it was something they previously saw as a bit of a dads-and-uncles habit, that won’t be true anymore once they get to 18 and are suddenly being told it’s a forbidden fruit.

Not to mention how infantilising this version of the ban is, which specifically prevents people born after 2009 from buying cigarettes. I feel bad for all the shop owners who, in a few years’ time, are going to have to patiently explain to hordes of legal adults that they aren’t allowed to buy something that their slightly older mate is. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it’s going to be for these people to ask their friends to lie to shopkeepers for the rest of their lives, just because they were born on the wrong side of January?

Look, I know these sound like small potatoes when compared to the myriad health issues that smoking causes, but it feels like just another minor annoyance in a country that’s feeling increasingly difficult to live in. Smoking is another small pleasure – another way to escapes the stresses and hostilities of working life, even just for a few moments – that we’re being denied by people who’ve decided they know better than we do.

What’s worse is that this Bill is being introduced by one of the least popular governments in this country’s history, whose leader the vast majority of us didn’t even get to vote on. Call me old fashioned, but I feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to make sweeping reforms to the laws of a country where everybody hates you and is desperate for you to leave. It feels like Sunak knows he has one foot out the door, so he’s trying to squeeze the last bit of joy out of us before we slam it shut on 14 years of Conservative rule.

Even if this ban has the desired positive effects on public health, you have to wonder if it will stop there. Alcohol is bad for you too – and causes a whole host of societal problems, as well as health issues. Should we ban that too? It would probably bring down the crime rate. What about fast food? Obesity is a huge concern, after all.

Or maybe we should just leave people to live their lives – and if there are consequences, that’s their cross to bear. As for me, I don’t particularly care that smoking is bad for me. All the best things in life are! My life is hard enough – for the love of God, just let me have a fag in peace.

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