Is a complete ban on smoking next?

  • 11 February 2014
  • From the section Health
  • comments
Smoking driver

It is often said if smoking was invented today it would never be legalised.

But with MPs voting in favour of banning smoking in cars with children present - and Downing Street confirming it will now act - it raises the question: what next?

In recent years governments of all colours have been getting increasingly confident about taking tough measures.

Since the ban on smoking in public places, which was introduced in Scotland in 2006 and the rest of the UK in 2007, there has been a series of steps taken from increasing the age at which tobacco products can be bought to stopping shops from having them on display.

So is an outright ban or, at the very least, a ban in homes likely?

Simon Clark, from the tobacco lobby group Forest, thinks so. Reacting to the vote by MPs, he warned a rubicon had been crossed as private spaces were now fair game.

But this has been dismissed by Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health, which has been at the forefront of the fight against smoking.

"A ban in homes is not feasible or right. But what this does, and indeed the ban in public places did, was send an important message and as a result the numbers smoking in homes has fallen."

Tough measures

She suggests a complete ban would actually be counter-productive.

"If you ban it a lot of the levers you use to stop uptake you lose. You can't tax it, you can't stop under-age sales. What we want to do is to do everything to discourage it."

Indeed, this is the mantra of much of the medical establishment and health campaign groups.

They now want to see more spent on mass media campaigns - funding has been squeezed by this government - and the introduction of plain packaging.

Ministers are currently reviewing the latter with the help of paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler, who will be visiting Australia this year to see what impact plain packaging has had since it became the first country to introduce it back in 2012.

What is more, politicians believe they have the public on their side.

In fact, even smokers seem willing to accept the tough measures.

A YouGov poll last year suggested 85% of smokers were already refusing to smoke in cars with children present.

It is perhaps this climate that has given politicians the confidence to be bold.

Even London Mayor Boris Johnson - a staunch defender of libertarian values and freedoms (he has campaigned against mandatory health warnings on wine bottles and ski helmets and booster seats for children under a certain height) - has said he was in favour of banning smoking in cars.

And when he was health secretary, Andrew Lansley talked about making it "socially unacceptable".

In fact, if the tactics of the past few years could be captured in one phrase, that would probably be it.