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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
World
Nicholas Cecil

Surge in young Londoners using shisha cafes raised in Parliament as MPs vote on tobacco sales ban

A surge in young Londoners using shisha cafes was raised in Parliament as MPs voted for a ban on tobacco sales.

Cities of London and Westminster Tory MP Nickie Aiken sounded the alarm over the growing trend.

During a debate on the tobacco sale ban, she stressed: “It is not just about cigarettes.

“Shisha smoking, in particular in Westminster, Marylebone and Edgware Road in my constituency, has become very fashionable for young people.

“An hour of smoking shisha equates to 100 to 200 cigarettes within an hour.”

She pressed Health Secretary Victoria Atikins: “Will she confirm that shisha tobacco will be included in the Bill?”

The Cabinet minister responded: “There are, in fact, five times more people in England today smoking non-cigarette tobacco, which includes cigars and shisha, than there were a decade ago.

“Worryingly, the greatest increase is in young adults. That is why we have said that tobacco in all its forms is a harmful product, and that we therefore wish to ensure we are consistent in the policy and the messaging that this is about helping young people to stop the start.”

Ms Aiken, a former leader of Westminster council, later tweeted: “The rise in shisha cafés in #TwoCities has been very worrying from a health perspective & I’ve heard from local people who have concerns regarding the sheer numbers and often late-night noise in neighbourhoods. I welcome that shishas are included in the Tobacco & Vapes Bill.”

Rishi Sunak’s proposal to ban young people from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes passed its first Commons hurdle on Tuesday, despite dozens of of Conservative MPs objecting to it.

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

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.

It does not criminalise current smokers, but seeks to prevent the harms caused by smoking, the leading causes 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 possible future Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch, to publicly reveal they would vote to reject the Bill.

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

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.

The division list showed 57 Conservative MPs voted against giving the Tobacco and Vapes Bill a second reading, while 178 voted to support it.

Among those voting against were Ms Badenoch, Ms Truss, former home secretary Suella Braverman and former housing secretary Sir Simon Clarke.

Several serving ministers also voted against, including Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, culture minister Julia Lopez and communities minister Lee Rowley.

Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the House of Commons, was among 106 Tory MPs listed as having “no vote recorded”.

Not all those listed in this way will have abstained, as some will have received permission to miss the vote.

However, newspapers had reported Ms Mordaunt, another Conservative leadership hopeful, was among those wavering in her support for the Bill.

Other Conservative former ministers supported the plans, with ex-Health Secretary Sir Sajid Javid criticising colleagues for “choosing to stand up for big tobacco against the interest of their constituents”.

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.

Ms 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.

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