Rishi Sunak’s aim of creating a smoke-free generation will put shopkeepers in the firing line, a Conservative MP has told the Commons.

Giles Watling described the practicalities of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1 2009, as “clearly nuts”.

The Clacton MP urged ministers to consider how the Bill would work on the ground, as he said retail workers found the proposed generational ban “frightening”.

Mr Watling said: “If we want to clamp down on the very real issue of illegal cigarettes and under-age sale of cigarettes and vapes, then we need a licencing scheme in my view, which properly funds trading standards teams, and rewarding those responsible business owners and going after the villains.

“I could support a ban on selling these products to under-21s or under-18s or whatever, this could hit the Government’s laudable goal of killing off under-age consumption by getting the sale out of teenage years entirely. That is simple and impactful.

“This in my mind is preferable to a law which puts the shopkeeper in the firing line, for having to interrogate people in line – turfing out the 22-year-old, whilst questioning the 24-year-old and supplying the 25-year-old.

“This is clearly nuts. I have spoken to retailers in Clacton, and the generational ban is frankly quite frightening for many.

Giles Watling
Clacton MP Giles Watling urged ministers to consider how the Bill would work on the ground (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

“It seems like a charter for confusion and confrontation to many, and it also might criminalise people inadvertently.”

Conservative former minister Sir Simon Clarke also raised concerns about the impact on retail workers, saying: “In practice, it is going to be a nightmare for shopworkers up and down the country to be asked to enforce this.

“And I do think it places them in a very invidious position, one which is likely to lead either to them facing real trouble in their shops or to them frankly passing the buck and ignoring the law and making a mockery of it existing at all.”

The Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP also argued that choosing to smoke was “up to us and not the state”.

He added: “It is likely that the health lobby … will use this as a logic which will allow them to move into other fields and what will our ability then be to resist that argument if we have conceded it here today.”