Logical step or overreach? Guardian readers share their views on Sunak’s smoking ban

Dozens of people have shared with the Guardian how they feel about Rishi Sunak’s tobacco and vapes bill, which aims to create the UK’s first smoke-free generation. The proposed legislation would not ban smoking outright, but ensure that anyone born after 1 January 2009 would be banned from buying cigarettes.

About half of respondents said they were in favour of the proposed ban, at least in principle, primarily due to the strain that smoking puts on the NHS. Many of them, however, questioned its enforceability and whether there would be unwelcome consequences.

Scores of people said they believed a smoking ban would not deter young people from wanting to access cigarettes, while many others worried that criminalising smoking could disproportionately affect vulnerable groups.

Various current and former smokers said they supported the ban and wished it had been brought in sooner, while scores of others described the ban as authoritarian overreach by the government, and questioned why smoking was singled out among other harmful activities, such as driving polluting cars or consuming sugar and alcohol.

Many people said they agreed that people should smoke less, but stressed that they would prefer less draconian measures such as an increased age limit to legally access tobacco or better education about the harmful effects of smoking over a total ban.

‘The high cost of treating smokers affects us all’

“As an ex-smoker, I’m fully supportive of the ban. It’s good that the commercial opportunities for the tobacco companies are weighed up against the rising costs of treating smoking-related illnesses paid for through government taxes on all and not just smokers. I had stopped smoking by the time the ban on smoking indoors came in, and how I wished that had been proposed 20 years earlier.

“My kids can’t understand what life was like in the 80s and 90s, going to smoke-filled clubs and bars. I don’t think this ban will stop all from smoking, but it will go far to helping reduce it significantly.”
Scott, 60, from Leeds

‘Vulnerable people will just turn to drug dealers’

“While I like the idea of people not being allowed to smoke, I feel that this is entirely unenforceable and will create a black market.

“People will smoke if they want and this will mean that people will be [illegally] selling cigarettes to people. These are likely to be the same people who deal in harder drugs, thus exposing potentially vulnerable people to harder drugs more often and creating more problems.”
David Taylor, 54, from Preston

‘I fear this ban will hit minority groups the hardest’

“Although the strategy is not a bad one, if we ban smoking, then we should also be banning fried chicken, sugar, and cars. We have other, greater health threats than smoking now – for instance, exposure to chemicals, pollution, and poor diets, leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes.

“It is a pointless law, since you can still purchase cigarettes abroad. My concern is how this law can be enforced in a fair and consistent way. I fear it will be used to further persecute minority groups who may not get away with breaking this law compared to others.”
Janis, 32, working in HR at a London hospital

‘Just increase the age limit to access nicotine’

“It is a desperate attempt by Sunak to commit to something, anything, before his election defeat. A smoking ban worked out poorly for Jacinda Ardern [New Zealand has already scrapped its smoking ban]. Smoking is bad, but so are many other things that are perfectly legal. I do not agree with the ban, but the minimum age should be higher for all nicotine products. At 21, people will be less inclined to try it simply because others are.

“Banning things doesn’t prevent people from obtaining them. It just puts that money outside of tax brackets into criminal enterprises. Given the tax revenue from tobacco is extraordinarily high, this will impact the nation’s finances significantly over time.”
John, 40, account manager from Wales

‘A ban will stop many from ever starting’

“I strongly support it. I started smoking young and it has had a massively negative impact on my life and health. It was just too easy to get cigarettes when I was a teen.

“A concern is that imported black market cigarettes tend to be even more dangerous, but a ban will still help a great number of people and stop many from ever starting.”
Ted, 42, from Wolverhampton

‘This ban is another anti-nightlife policy’

“I am a liberal and I am against this sort of thing. Adults ought to be able to smoke tobacco if they wish to, just as they should be able to drink alcohol. If we want to make this country increasingly dull and puritanical, we are moving in the right direction with our wider war on nightlife.”
Alex, 23, council worker from Shrewsbury

‘The UK is becoming a nanny state’

“I don’t agree. I believe people should have a choice and provided people are informed, it should be up to them how to live their lives. I am overweight and that causes more issues to the NHS, so let’s get rid of chocolate – is that next? I look at 1920s America and prohibition – that didn’t work. Increase the age to 25, but don’t ban it. We are still individuals, aren’t we, and allowed to make choices?

[I’m concerned about] the UK turning into a nanny state. The NHS should not be dictating to us how we live our lives, they should just keep us informed. I am very annoyed that the UK government thinks they have the power to bring in something that affects people in the future when all of them will be dead and gone.”
Lorraine, in her 50s, from Warrington

‘A total ban is the only way’

“A smoking ban is overdue. As a non-smoker, I’m constantly suffering due to the chain-smoking habits of people around me: my parents, my husband and co-workers. I find that vapes affect my lungs even more than traditional tobacco. In the morning I walk to work in the company of teenagers who vape all the way to secondary schools, despite current restrictions. A total ban is the only way to save those kids, and the NHS from collapsing.”
Jo Jones, 45, ​​admin worker and carer from Wales

‘I like the odd fag – smoking isn’t all bad’

“I have very mixed feelings. I don’t want my kids to smoke and the idea of no one smoking is appealing for health, environment and generally living in a better, cleaner world … But it’s a deeply illiberal approach. I smoke occasionally, I like the odd fag with a beer, cigar on a special occasion and even the occasional pipe. Smoking isn’t all bad.”
Guy Weston, 43, an advertising agency owner from Ilkley

‘I’d have loved to experience a life without smoke’

“My father chain-smoked during my mother’s pregnancy and throughout my childhood. On every car ride, every Saturday night on the sofa, at every restaurant table, in every hotel room. By the time I started smoking at 15, I felt I had been smoking since birth. It was totally normalised for me.

“Yet the horror on his face when he saw me smoking for the first time has haunted me. He was furious beyond belief. After 25 years of chain-smoking myself, I could see that his anger was not directed at me. He was angry at himself.

“I’ll never know how different my life would have been without cigarettes, but I would love to have had the chance to find out. Smoking has kept me poor and ashamed for so long. I am finally vaping and have not smoked for two years. I am not religious, but I think nicotine is the devil’s work.”
Daniel, 42, a film-maker from Nottingham


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