Christopher Snowdon

Therese Coffey should leave smokers alone

(Credit: Getty images)

So Thérèse Coffey, the health secretary, is putting the tobacco control plan on ice. Or is she? As in many other areas of public policy these days, all we have are rumours. Someone may be flying a kite with this rumour, but it is not clear whether it is the health secretary or a disgruntled civil servant at the Department of Health holding the string. All Coffey has said officially is that she was not ‘aware’ of what’s going on with it.

You may not be aware of it at all and I can hardly blame you. In the dying days of Theresa May’s administration – two prime ministers ago – a green paper declared that England would be ‘smoke-free’ by 2030 (‘smoke-free’ is counter-intuitively defined as a smoking rate below five per cent). It was May’s attempt to leave some sort of legacy from her dismal premiership. As with Net Zero, she didn’t need to worry about how, or if, it would happen.

The target was put in place without a vote in Parliament and without many people noticing, least of all – I suspect – smokers themselves. All eyes were on Brexit, and then on Covid-19, and then on inflation. Hassling smokers has not been a priority for the general public.

His bizarre recommendations included painting cigarettes green or brown

Rightly so. A pack of cigarettes costs £13, you can’t smoke them anywhere except outdoors and in private dwellings, they haven’t been advertised for 20 years, they are hidden behind shutters in shops and have been in beige packaging with gruesome photographs since 2017. 

Everyone has got the message that smoking is bad for you and the government would rather you didn’t do it.

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