Suggestions by former chancellor George Osborne to ban smoking have sparked warnings of a rise in illicit tobacco trade.

Speaking to The Times Health Commission inquiry, Osborne suggested that the government should implement an increasing minimum age restriction for tobacco that would eventually see it made completely illegal. Similar legislation has been introduced in New Zealand.

The Times Health Commission is a year-long inquiry into the NHS and social care in England, with a final report set to be published in January next year.

In his submission to the inquiry, Osborne said: “You basically phase it out. Of course you’re going to have lots of problems with illegal smoking, but you have lots of problems with other illegal activities. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and ban them and police them and make it less readily available. I thought that was a compelling public health intervention.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, warned such measures would increase the illicit trade.

“It would fuel a huge black market in tobacco, losing the government billions of pounds in tax revenue every year, as well as costing a small fortune to try and enforce.”

Forest added that consumers should be allowed make up their own mind about the issue. “Like many politicians, past and present, George Osborne wants to control how millions of people live their lives,” said Clark. “Banning younger generations of adults from smoking would infantilise millions of people, denying them the opportunity to make their own choices and take responsibility for their health.”

Expanding the sugar levy

Osborne also suggested that the Soft Drinks Industry levy, that was introduced in 2016, be expanded to include fruit juice and milkshakes.

In a statement provided to Convenience Store, British Soft Drinks Association director general, Gavin Partington, said: “It’s important to be clear about the evidence. While the original Soft Drinks Industry Levy did prompt some manufacturers to go further and faster in reformulating their products, there is no evidence that this has had an impact on levels of obesity in the UK. A 150ml portion of fruit juice counts as one of your 5 a day, a target the vast majority of the population is already struggling to meet, so any measure that could further risk people foregoing the vitamin and phytonutrient benefits of fruit juice is quite frankly ludicrous in principle.”