Rishi Sunak forces through vote for total ban on smoking for those born after 2009

Britain is on course to ban smoking for an entire generation after Rishi Sunak forced through a historic vote in the House of Commons.

The prime minister relied on Labour votes to see off opponents on his own benches, led by the former PM Liz Truss, winning by 383 votes to 67.

The legislation, which if passed will mean that anyone aged 15 or younger today will never be able to buy cigarettes legally, will see the UK slowly become a smoke-free country.

Earlier Mr Sunak urged members of his cabinet to think of “future generations” and back his flagship plan as he sought to avoid a humiliating backlash at the hands of his own party.

But the business secretary Kemi Badenoch was among those who voted against the plan, saying it undermines the principle of equality under the law by treating adults differently even if they were born just a day apart.

Other MPs tipped as future Tory leadership candidates, including former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and former home secretary Suella Braverman, also voted against the ban, alongside several serving ministers, while leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt abstained.

Ms Badenoch downplayed suggestions that her opposition to the policy demonstrated she was posturing for a future leadership bid, saying it was “a shame” people would view it that way.

“We need space for people to be able to have disagreements without it being put down to ulterior motives,” she told an LBC phone-in. “Everything we do is looked at through the prism of the worst possible intention. And I think that’s one of the reasons why politicians feel they don’t get a fair hearing, that many people decide not to do this job.”

Ms Truss earlier hit out at what she described as a “virtue-signalling” piece of legislation and urged true Tories to reject it, saying there were enough “finger-wagging, nannying control freaks” on Labour’s benches.

In the end, 57 Tory MPs defied Mr Sunak’s call and voted against the ban, while more than 100 did not vote.

Ms Truss said it was “emblematic” of a “technocratic establishment” that wanted to “limit freedom”.

She also told MPs that she feared that the “health police” would push on other issues if a ban was introduced. “People are concerned about this,” she told the Commons. “They want to be able to make their own decisions about what they eat, what they drink and how they enjoy themselves.”

Former health secretary Kenneth Clarke also warned that the move risked being difficult to enforce.

“You will get to a stage where if you are 42 years of age, you will be able to buy them, but someone aged 41 will not be allowed to,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Does that mean you will have to produce your birth certificate? It may prove very difficult to enforce. Future generations will have to see whether it works or not.”

MPs had a free vote on the ban, plans for which were announced at the Tory conference in 2023 (AP)
MPs had a free vote on the ban, plans for which were announced at the Tory conference in 2023 (AP)

Sir Simon Clarke, a Conservative MP and an arch-critic of Mr Sunak, said the plan risked “making smoking cooler” and “creating a black market”.

MPs had a free vote on the ban, which was announced by the prime minister to great fanfare at last year’s Conservative Party conference. The government decided not to whip the vote, saying it was a matter of conscience, which left Tory MPs able to vote as they chose.

The bill had been expected to pass its first major parliamentary hurdle after Labour decided to back it.

Asked earlier whether the PM would urge cabinet ministers to support the policy, his spokesperson said: “He would urge everyone considering the bill tonight to obviously vote with their conscience, but to consider that the bill is seeking to ensure that future generations are smoke-free.”

He also said the PM’s message was: “If we want to build a better future for our children, we need to tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death, which is smoking.”

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty has issued a message in support of the smoking ban (BBC Breakfast)
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty has issued a message in support of the smoking ban (BBC Breakfast)

England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty said cigarettes are a product that is “designed to take your choice away” through addiction.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The great majority of smokers wish they had never started, but they become addicted at an early age and then they’re trapped and their choice has been taken away by that addiction.

“This is one of the reasons why the argument that ‘if you’re pro-choice, you’re in favour of cigarettes’ is so surprising, because this is a product which is designed to take your choice away from you.”

His stance was backed by a Home Office minister who took up smoking at the age of 12, who said she had “never met a single smoker who’s glad they did it”.

Laura Farris said her own personal smoking habit was “one of my biggest regrets” and that it took her “years and years and years to quit”.

Doctors and health charities had all urged MPs to vote in favour of the proposals. Professor Steve Turner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the bill would “without a doubt ... save lives”, while Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Decisive action is needed to end this ongoing public health tragedy.”

Tory MPs voting against the bill were joined by 7 DUP MPs, Reform Party MP Lee Anderson, and Workers Party of Britain MP George Galloway.

Some 178 Conservatives supported the bill, according to the division list, alongside 160 Labour MPs, 31 SNP MPs, 5 Liberal Democrats, 3 Plaid Cymru MPs, 2 independents, and the Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry.