SCOTLAND Secretary Alister Jack has abstained from voting on the UK Government’s proposal to ban young people from ever being able to legally smoke tobacco.

Jack was one of many Tory MPs to either abstain or vote against the policy in yet another blow to Rishi Sunak’s dwindling authority within the party.

Still, despite failing to gain the support of large swathes of his party, Sunak’s proposal cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons.

MPs voted 383 to 67, majority 316, to give the Tobacco and Vapes Bill a second reading.

Numerous Tory MPs, including Alister Jack and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, abstained. 

The legislation, seen by the Prime Minister as a key part of his long-term legacy, would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2009 – with the aim of creating a “smoke-free” generation.

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It does not criminalise current smokers but is aimed at preventing the harms caused by smoking, the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the UK.

Conservative MPs were given a free vote on the Bill, meaning those who voted against the Government’s position will not face punishment.

This allowed serving ministers, including Business Secretary and future Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch (below), to publicly reveal they would vote to reject the Bill.

The dissent among high-profile Tories highlights discontent with Sunak’s leadership and posturing as his party languishes in the polls ahead of the upcoming General Election.

“The principle of equality under the law is a fundamental one. It underpins many of my personal beliefs,” Badenoch wrote on X, formerly Twitter, ahead of the vote.

She added: “We should not treat legally competent adults differently in this way, where people born a day apart will have permanently different rights.”

The National:

Another potential contender to run for the Tory leadership, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, also came out against the policy.

He tweeted: “I believe in personal freedom. Let’s educate more and ban less.

“I also believe in the principle of equality under the law. A phased ban of smoking would be an affront to that. I will therefore vote against the Tobacco and Vapes Bill.”

They were joined by Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who said she hoped MPs could “make amendments which will make it law which will be more likely to actually deter young smokers without removing freedom of choice for adults”.

The intervention by serving ministers comes after several senior Tories, including former prime minister Liz Truss, said they would not back the bill due to concerns about freedom of personal choice.

In the Commons, Truss claimed the ban is the result of a “technocratic establishment” aiming to “limit people’s freedom”, and described the Bill as a “virtue-signalling piece of legislation”.

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In a warning to Tory colleagues, Truss said she was “disappointed” that a Conservative Government was bringing forward a smoking ban.

She claimed there were enough “finger-wagging, nannying control freaks” on the opposition benches willing to support the proposals, urging Conservatives to “stand by our principles and our ideals”.

Former Conservative Party chairman Brendan Clarke-Smith suggested the proposal could lead to further health-related bans.

He said: “What next? A ban on alcohol? A ban on takeaways? I would declare an interest in both of those. Both of these are bad for us when they are not done responsibly. But we are adults, these are our choices, these are not the state’s choice.”

Other Conservative former ministers supported the plans, with ex-health secretary Sajid Javid (below) criticising colleagues for “choosing to stand up for big tobacco against the interest of their constituents”.

The National: Sajid Javid

Steve Brine, Conservative chairman of the Health Affairs Committee, suggested small-state Tories should back the measures to eliminate costs for the taxpayer.

“If you are a Conservative and a smaller state is your thing… you should be right behind a healthier society, one that needs the state less, one that relies on the state less, one that costs the state less,” he said.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting confirmed Labour’s “wholehearted” support to the bill, and added his party is “only too happy to defend the Health Secretary against the siren voices of big tobacco” gathered on the Tory benches.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said she understood colleagues’ concerns about freedom of choice, and conceded Conservatives were “not in the habit of banning things”, but warned the Commons there was “no liberty in addiction”.

“Nicotine robs people of their freedom to choose. The vast majority of smokers start when they are young, and three-quarters say that if they could turn back the clock they would not have started,” she added.