Smoking ban will save NHS and stop it ‘swallowing economy’, says David Davis

Sir David Davis
Sir David Davis said restrictions were justified because cigarettes were 'ridiculously addictive' - Jordan Pettitt/PA

Rishi Sunak’s smoking ban will save the NHS and prevent it from swallowing “the entire economy”, a former cabinet minister has said.

Sir David Davis, a civil liberties campaigner, said the proposals – opposed by dozens of Conservative MPs in a Commons vote this week – would prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths.

In almost four decades in Parliament, the former Brexit secretary has opposed ID cards and resigned from his shadow cabinet post over detention measures in the Counter Terrorism Bill in 2008.

But in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today Podcast, Sir David said: “If you brought tobacco into being today, a brand new product, what do you think the chances are it would get past any of the health barriers? None, and that’s the point.

“We’re talking about something that is ridiculously addictive. The simple truth is, is it worth tens of thousands of lives? Not in a month of Sundays.”

Five prospective Tory leadership hopefuls, including Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt, refused to back Mr Sunak’s anti-smoking legislation on Tuesday. Ms Badenoch voted against it in the free vote, while Ms Mordaunt, the Commons Leader, abstained.

Sir David acknowledged a year-on-year increase in the smoking age “won’t work that well”, but added: “If this policy only works 50 per cent effective, and an awful lot of government policies of all governments are only partially effective, it’s still tens of thousands of lives.

“One of the things about conservatism is it has survived for 200 years because it’s stayed up with the ages. This is one of the biggest health issues there is. If you don’t do this, the National Health Service will swallow the entire economy in another 30 years.

“Jacob [Rees-Mogg] and many others see themselves as Thatcherites. But Margaret Thatcher didn’t ask for a second what other people thought about policies – she thought ‘are they the right policies?’”

Sir Jacob has described Mr Sunak’s phased ban on smoking as “absurd” and warned that it would not help the Conservatives climb the “electoral mountain” they are facing ahead of the general election.


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A total of 165 Tory MPs either abstained or voted against it, leaving the Prime Minister reliant on Labour support to help it clear its first hurdle in the Commons.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill aims to eradicate smoking among future generations by making it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone who turned 15 this year or anyone younger.

It raises the smoking age by one year each year, with businesses or individuals that break the law set to receive spot fines or face prosecution.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, last week claimed Sir Winston Churchill would have backed the ban, despite him reputedly enjoying 160,000 cigars during his lifetime.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, has signalled tat his party would press ahead with a smoking ban if it wins the election.