Politics

The pros and cons of a total smoking ban

The age at which people can buy tobacco in England should be raised year by year so that eventually no one can buy it, a government-commissioned review has said.

The “radical” report also recommended that beer gardens and beaches should ban smoking, The Guardian said, in an effort to make smoking obsolete.

The recommendations have “opened a cabinet split”, The Times reported. Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, have “balked at the proposals”, but Michael Gove has signalled his support for them.

Even introduced over the course of several decades, an outright smoking ban is likely to prove equally controversial among voters.

1

Pro: saving lives

Almost six million people in England smoke, and tobacco remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death. Tobacco smoke can cause cancer, strokes and heart disease. 

The independent government-commissioned review argued that tackling tobacco use and supporting smokers to quit would help prevent 15 types of cancer – including lung cancer, throat cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia. Recent data showed that one in four deaths from all cancers were estimated to be from smoking.

2

Con: black markets

Simon Clark, of smokers’ lobby group Forest, told the BBC that “creeping prohibition won’t stop young adults smoking” but it will “simply drive the sale of tobacco underground and consumers will buy cigarettes on the black market where no-one pays tax and products are completely unregulated”.

Writing on The Conversation, Dr Brendan Gogarty, of the University of Tasmania, argued that “laws that rely on prohibition to reduce the prevalence and harm from drugs generally fail to achieve their aims”.

3

Pro: avoiding poverty

Smoking causes a disproportionate burden on the most disadvantaged families and communities, the independent review commissioned earlier this year by Sajid Javid found.

The average smoker in the North East of England spends over 10% of their income on tobacco, compared to just over 6% in the South East. Therefore, argue anti-smoking campaigners, banning smoking would bring greater benefits to the less well-off.

4

Con: risk to civil liberties

Smokers and the groups who advocate on their behalf argue that their habit is a civil right, even if it kills the smoker. In a report published in 2019, the smokers’ group Forest argued that “smokers are the canaries for civil liberties”.

It added that the call for a ban “directly violates the harm principle that assumes a person has autonomy over their own life and body as long as they do not hurt other people”.

5

Pro: environmental protection

Cigarette smoking has several negative environmental impacts and banning smoking would bring these to an end. Smokers release pollution into the atmosphere, cigarette butts litter the environment, and the toxic chemicals in the residues cause soil and water pollution.

Tobacco is commonly planted in rainforest areas and has contributed to major deforestation, said Conserve Energy Future.

A 2013 report in the journal Tobacco Control found that cigarette manufacturing “consumes scarce resources in growing, curing, rolling, flavouring, packaging, transport, advertising and legal defence” and “also causes harms from massive pesticide use”.

6

Con: losing tax revenue

Taxation on smoking raises more than £8.8bn per year for the Treasury, noted Politics.co.uk. The TaxPayers’ Alliance rejected the argument that smokers also cost the taxman more due to their health burden, arguing that smokers who suffer major health problems are more likely to die prematurely, reducing expenditure on state pensions and other age-related benefits.

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