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Kemi Badenoch votes against Rishi Sunak’s phased smoking ban amid rebellion

Kemi Badenoch and other senior Tories voted against Rishi Sunak’s phased smoking ban, in a major blow to the prime minister’s authority.

The cabinet minister said before the vote that she could not support the tobacco and e-cigarette bill because she believed in the “principle of equality before the law.”

MPs voted 383 to 67 in favor of the bill in its second reading in Parliament. Some 59 Conservatives voted for the bill again, but Labor’s support means the bill is likely to make it through Parliament.

The Prime Minister’s plan will make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under 15 years old. The legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco – currently 18 – would increase by one year each year, so people born in 2009 or later would never be able to legally buy cigarettes.

Tory MPs have been granted free choice, meaning they can vote according to their personal conscience rather than following the official party line, giving libertarian-minded Conservatives the opportunity to express their discomfort without consequences.

Badenoch’s rebellion is significant because she is seen as the future leader of the Conservative Party, with some suggesting she would be in the race to succeed Sunak if he were ousted before the election.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick – both also seen as potential leadership contenders – also voted against the bill.

Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, wrote on him as a leader who does not shy away from sensitive topics.

“I agree with his political intentions BUT I have significant concerns and appreciate that the Prime Minister has made this a free vote. It gives me the opportunity to express my personal opinion outside of collective responsibility. The principle of equality before the law is fundamental. It underpins many of my personal beliefs.

“We should not treat competent adults so differently that people born a day apart have permanent different rights. This will, among other things, lead to difficulties in enforcement. This burden will not fall on the state, but on private companies.

“Smoking rates have already fallen significantly in the UK and I think we can do more to stop children taking up smoking. However, I do not support the approach of this bill and will therefore vote against it.”

The Prime Minister announced the plan at the Conservative Party conference in October.

Sunak said the change would “save more lives than any other decision we could make” as 64,000 people a year currently die as a result of smoking.

The bill also gives the government new powers to crack down on young people vaping. This includes imposing flavor restrictions and regulating the way they are packaged and sold to make them less attractive to children.

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