Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement about phasing out cigarette sales in England has garnered support from unexpected quarters. Even the SNP and Labour ministers in Scotland and Wales have expressed broad agreement with the proposal. This consensus is particularly noteworthy because smoking laws are devolved, meaning that Westminster can only decide policy for England.
While there may be an appearance of politicians suddenly adopting a new idea, it’s clear that political instincts are coalescing around a similar position. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called this plan the “biggest public health intervention in a generation.” England’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, echoed this sentiment, emphasising the potential health benefits.
The proposal to phase out cigarette sales in England is reminiscent of past policies like the ban on smoking in public places or the legalisation of gay marriage. These were initially debated but eventually became entrenched in law with little chance of reversal.
However, there’s a complicating factor in this case. Previous bans or rights established by governments applied universally, or, at the very least, universally for adults. The gradually increasing legal age for purchasing cigarettes adds complexity to this proposal.
Over time, the oddities of such a law could become more apparent. Shopkeepers may need to ask middle-aged and older individuals for identification to determine their legal standing, given the continuously rising age limit.
Ministers hope that the law’s positive effects will outweigh these potential absurdities. They anticipate that the declining prevalence of smoking in society, particularly among younger generations, will render the legal intricacies irrelevant.
Not long ago, cigarette smoke was pervasive, even in public places like pubs, clubs, and workplaces. However, times have changed. The question remains: Can this proposal, with its quirks, achieve its goal of eventually eliminating smoking altogether? While there’s political will for such a change, implementing it presents challenges.