Rishi Sunak faces a backlash from the Tory right over his youth smoking ban, as he sets out plans to get rid of disposable vapes to protect children’s health.
Liz Truss is leading a rebellion against the PM’s ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.
The former PM attacked the move as “profoundly unconservative” – claiming Tory governments should be against such “nanny state” policies.
It comes as shares in vaping firms tumbled on Monday, as Mr Sunak announced his legislative plan to ban all disposable vapes in Britain.
The PM is also unveiling new powers to restrict vape flavours in an effort make them less appealing to children.
Mr Sunak has promised a “free vote” on the plan to phase out legal smoking among young people, calling it a “matter of conscience” for his MPs.
Labour is backing for the smoking ban, so the measure is likely pass through the Commons with relative ease.
But another rebellion by the Tory right will provide awkward for Mr Sunak – already battling against a right-wing plot against his leadership.
Ms Truss said banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born in 2009 or later “will create an absurd situation where adults enjoy different rights based on their birthdate”.
“A Conservative government should not be seeking to extend the nanny state,” said Ms Truss. “This will only give succour to those who wish to ban further choices of which they don’t approve.
She called on Mr Sunak to follow the new government in New Zealand and reverse “this profoundly unconservative policy”.
Former Tory trade minister Sir Edward Leigh also last year said he would vote against the “ridiculous” measure.
Another rebel MP mocked Mr Sunak’s links to California, telling The Times: “I’m sure banning vapes goes down brilliantly among the Californian fasting community but our voters want the boats stopping and their wage packets growing.”
Ms Truss and group of right-wing backbenchers are expected to back an amendment to raise the smoking age to 21 as an alternative to the PM’s plan.
Mr Sunak said the rise of vaping among teenagers was “one of the most worrying trends at the moment” – saying it was vital to “act before it becomes endemic”.
The Tory leader said: “Alongside our commitment to stop children who turn 15 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, these changes will leave a lasting legacy by protecting our children’s health for the long term.”
The ban on disposable vapes will use powers already in place under the Environmental Protection Act and is expected to come into force early next year.
It is already illegal to sell vapes to anyone under 18, but evidence shows disposable vapes – which are cheaper and sold in smaller, more colourful packaging than refillable ones – are driving the rise in youth vaping.
In 2021, only 7.7 per cent of current vapers aged 11 to 17 used disposable vapes, but this increased to 52 per cent in 2022 and 69 per cent in 2023.