THE debate about whether the British government should ban tobacco smoking is fascinating, with a number of Conservatives voting against what is one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s biggest personal missions.

Their reservations are very understandable. The sliding ban, creeping up a year each year, is going to be extremely difficult to enforce and whatever money is spent on it might be better off tackling the lethal menace of cocaine or heroin that we see commonly on our streets.

And if you ban smoking, what will you ban next? Alcohol, when abused, destroys families and lives. Sugar and unhealthy fast foods are dangerous – should they be banned soon?

This is an unconservative measure. It removes people’s freedom to make their own choices, be they good or bad.

Yet it is also a responsible government’s duty to help its citizens lead their best lives. It is a government’s responsibility to draw a line in the sand and say for the benefit of all concerned that, say, children are in education till they are 18 or that cars should not go faster than 30mph in a built-up area.

Smoking is the biggest single preventable cause of death in this country. About 80,000 lives a year are lost through it. Smoking taxes raise £10bn-a-year but the cost to society is £17bn, including £2.6bn to the NHS (there would be 75,000 freed-up GP appointments if no one smoked) and £1.2bn to social care.

Non-smokers have no choice but to foot these bills.

This is a difficult balance to strike but, seeing the evidence, the Government has to act and, after previous measures, a ban is the next logical step on the path to end the addiction that afflicts 12.9 per cent of the population – 15.4 per cent in Durham.

Ironically, in a debate about freedom, smoking gives smokers very little choice once they have started because it is an addiction.