Smoking should be banned and the sugar tax extended to include fruit juices and smoothies, George Osborne said.
In 2016, the former Conservative chancellor announced a sugar tax on soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Irn Bru, claiming the money would be used to provide more sports funds for primary schools. It did not apply to milk-based beverages or fruit juices.
Now Osborne believes the Rishi Sunak government should go a step further and tax cookies, cakes and raise the legal smoking age to help reduce levels of obesity and cancer.
Last year, New Zealand introduced a steadily rising smoking age to prevent those under 14 from being able to legally buy cigarettes in the world’s first legislation to ban smoking for the next generation.
Speaking about a possible smoking ban, Osborne told the Times Health Commission: “You basically phase it out. Of course you’re going to have a lot of problems with illegal smoking, but you have a lot of problems with other illegal activities.
“It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to ban and police them and make them less accessible. I thought it was a compelling public health intervention.”
Earlier this year, Labor said it was considering plans to quit smoking among young people. Other areas under consideration include the minimum price of alcohol and the soda and junk food industries.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said in January: “The New Zealand government is doing it. We want to see how that works… We’re going to have to think radically. What the government has done to the NHS is a shame. It’s going to take time to fix it and some radical new thinking and that’s what the Labor Party is all about.”
When Osborne introduced the sugar tax as Chancellor, he faced heavy criticism from conservative Conservatives, who described the idea as “illiberal and condescending”. Conservative MP Will Quince described the move as “the worst nanny statism”.
Osborne told the Times that “anti-nanny state conservatives” were “not worth listening to.” Comparing the sugar tax to pub smoking bans or seatbelt laws, he added: “They were all opposed at the time by vociferous lobbies. It has taken a lot of political courage on the part of the different administrations to achieve this. But now no one would smoke in pubs again and no one would say you shouldn’t wear a seatbelt.”
Osborne said sweeping healthcare reform could only be achieved by a Labor government, as the Tories were “absolutely terrified as far as the NHS is concerned that it’s going to be constantly accused of things in a secret scheme, so it’s actually quite timid about health care reform. ”.
He cited Tony Blair’s government as “by far the boldest and most productive period for healthcare reform” in his political life.
The government’s target of reducing the adult smoking rate to 5% or less in England by 2030 is expected to fall short of drastic action.
The charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) has estimated that smoking costs the NHS £2.4bn and a further £1.2bn for social care.
Welcoming Labour’s proposals, the charity’s chief executive, Deborah Arnott, said: “Tackling smoking is key as it remains one of the leading causes of premature death and disease, responsible for half of the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor”.