Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has recently announced at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that he plans to implement a gradual ban on the use of recreational tobacco.

This piece of legislation has the aim of making it illegal for people who are currently 14 and under to ever be able to purchase tobacco legally, which will effectively phase out smoking over a few generations so as to not affect the people who currently smoke. According to BBC News, “He said measures to restrict public health were “never easy,” but nobody would want their children or grandchildren to grow up to smoke.” (James, 2023). To many supporters of this measure, the ban will help ease the burden that the NHS is currently under in regard to funding and waiting lists. According to NHS England, “It is estimated that smoking has cost the NHS in England £2.6 billion per year.” (NHS England, 2022). We must also think of the human cost that comes with the effects of long-term smoking on our bodies. it can cause many health conditions, such as cancer and breathing problems. However, we must also consider what we would need to do to replace the tax shortfall that would come from a ban on tobacco. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, “In 2023–24, we estimate that tobacco duties will rise to £10.4 billion.” (OBR, 2023) The money raised on tobacco could be used to help alleviate the NHS funding issues, especially if we were to raise the tax to a higher level. This may also convince people to try and quit in a way that doesn’t impact other people’s civil liberties.

For clarification, I would like to say that I know many people in my life who use tobacco products. Some of them would like to quit smoking but are struggling to get over the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that have manifested. Others would not like to quit, as they see it as a way to get through the stresses of modern life. I respect whatever they do, as it is their life, and they are free to do whatever they would like to do with it.

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to people across Bournemouth about their views on how they feel about the government’s proposed measures. I spoke to a mixture of smokers and non-smokers to get a broad range of views.

One person I spoke to (Joe) said “I began smoking to cope, but I got addicted”. Smoking is associated with pleasure and is used as a temporary release from the world to ease your anxiety. As stated in an article in the International Journal of Drug Policy, “the psychoactive effects of nicotine are subtle and do not interfere with mental performance or hand-eye coordination.” (Bell & Keane, 2012). As a type of drug that does not affect your daily life, many people use it as if it were like having a cup of tea or coffee. Most smokers know they are harming their bodies but can’t stop due to the addictive nature of nicotine.

Another person I spoke to (Noah) said, “Making stuff illegal doesn’t stop people from using it.” As we have seen time and time again, the war on drugs has not worked. We are spending obscene amounts of money fighting drugs just for it to end in disaster for everyone. Why should the government be interfering with something that grown adults have the right to do? Having drugs that are legal allows the government to regulate the products to make them safer. It can also collect tax revenue from them to improve public services such as the NHS and education.

A person I spoke to (Alex) said, “They are not banning vaping.” This makes the valid point that we are seeing an increase in people vaping who have never smoked before. According to the UK Government, “vaping is not risk-free, particularly for people who have never smoked” (GOV.UK, 2022). Vaping is generally recommended as an aid to help you quit smoking if you so choose; however, we cannot deny that the range of flavours in vape liquids has made it so that people who would not take up smoking because of the taste are now vaping.

We need a greater focus on helping people quit smoking through methods such as nicotine replacement therapy and e-cigarettes. We need to make more people aware of the risks of smoking and the effects that it has on our health. According to the World Health Organisation, “tobacco causes at least 15 different cancers and is responsible for 22% of all cancer related deaths”. (WHO, 2014). Still, we must accept that smoking should be a personal liberty and that you should be allowed to choose what to do with your body and health. The government should not be making that choice for you.

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