Wednesday 29 November 2023

Prohibition 2.0 - ready to go again?


A new IEA briefing from me was published today looking at Sunak's tobacco ban. You can download it here. In it, I look at the justifications set out by the government and the predictable problems that will ensue if it goes ahead.

I've also written about this for the Spectator.

Prohibition has a bad name for a good reason and you don’t need to go back to 1920s America for the evidence. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan banned tobacco sales in 2004 at a time when its smoking rate was very low. Western public health campaigners applauded the move, but a study in 2011 noted that it was accompanied by ‘smuggling and a thriving black market’.

15 years later, 22 per cent of Bhutanese 13-15 year olds were tobacco users. Among this age group, the World Health Organisation reports that ‘prevalence of current cigarette smoking increased continuously from 2009 to 2019’. So much for the ‘smoke-free generation’. The ban was lifted in 2021 because there were so many people smuggling tobacco into Bhutan that the government was worried that they were spreading Covid-19.

The irony is that Sunak announced the prohibition policy at the Conservative party conference during a speech in which he condemned his predecessors for short-term thinking and portrayed himself as the man to make sensible decisions in the nation’s longterm interests. But this policy will only start to bite after 2026 when Mr Sunak is likely to be long gone. Far from being a departure from short-termism, the generational ban is just another unworkable political gimmick designed to garner headlines. Sunak is essentially opening a new front in the war on drugs and leaving future governments to deal with the consequences.

And we have a panel discussion in that London tonight. All welcome.

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