This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

In a rare victory for a Conservative government in its death throes, the House of Commons has overwhelmingly passed a bill which would ban anyone born after 2008 from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes.

Given the well-known public health risks of smoking, it was unlikely any of the other major parties were ever going to vote against such a scheme – you’d have to have pretty terrible political instincts to do so. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss was one of the few who did, which probably tells you all you need to know.

While it’s something of a breath of smoke-free air to see Rishi Sunak proposing something that doesn’t involve being demonic about asylum seekers, questions have been raised about how the legislation would actually work in practice.

Anyone who has ever worked in a bar or supermarket will be able to tell you that the general rule is ‘challenge 25’. That is, since one cannot reliably tell the difference in age between, say, a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old, anyone who the server assesses as looking 25 or younger should be asked for ID.

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This isn’t a foolproof system but it works as a general guide. How, though, are we supposed to enforce the age restriction on smoking as it rises into the late 30s and early 40s? Challenge 45? Challenge 60? Just require everyone to show ID to buy cigarettes? Can we one day expect to see gangs of 50-year-olds in hoodies surreptitiously slipping a pensioner a fiver for a 20 deck of Lambert & Butler?

Other critiques have been put forward by the Institute for Economic Affairs, though for some reason the body did not disclose that it has been receiving donations from British American Tobacco since 1963, and counts Phillip Morris and Imperial as members.

As such, it pays to be careful when evaluating critiques of any legislation surrounding the tobacco industry, which has a past soaked in blood. The wealth and prosperity of Glasgow was largely built on the trade, as well as the largesse of its barons, as can be seen by names like Buchanan Street, Ingram Street and Glassford Street. These man made their fortunes from the ‘triangular trade’, whereby textiles, rum and other goods would be taken to Africa, slaves would be taken to the Americas to labour in the fields, and the cotton and tobacco they were forced to pick was taken back to Glasgow and sold for a tidy profit.

The Herald:

The tobacco industry hasn’t exactly had its hands clean since the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade either. UCLA researchers examined dozens of internal documents made public after a 1998 court case, and concluded that the industry had known cigarette smoke contained potentially dangerous radioactive particles as early as 1959. Six years prior to that a secret study produced for RJ Reynolds noted clinical data supporting a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. A year later the industry as a whole assured: “We believe the products we make are not injurious to health”.

By the 1960s two studies came out which concluded smoking was a leading cause of lung cancer, to which Phillip Morris replied: “We don’t accept the idea that there are harmful agents in tobacco”. An internal memo from one of British American Tobacco’s subsidiaries concluded “doubt is our product since it is the best way of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the public”. By the 1980s the industry had largely stopped fighting on that battlefront, but it would spend most of the next two decades trying to deny the link between passive smoking and cancer.

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Some of the industry’s more recent endeavours probably give the UK government a taste of what’s to come. Between 2010 and 2016 Phillip Morris sued the country of Uruguay alleging that new anti-smoking laws where in violation of a bilateral agreement between the nation and Switzerland, where Phillip Morris is headquartered. It eventually lost the case, but lawsuits are expensive and various tobacco companies have looked to intimidate some of the poorest countries in the world with costly trials. Uganda, Namibia, Togo, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso all received threatening legal letters in response to various laws surrounding the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, with many backing down rather than face an expensive court case.

This is, hopefully, enough evidence to convince you, dear reader, than Unspun is not in the pocket of Big Tobacco. Well intentioned as it may be though, Mr Sunak’s law is sure to face legal challenge and appears unworkable in practice – there’s a good chance it’ll never be implemented at all.

Still, at least he’s not proposing the deportation of smokers to Rwanda so the current government is halfway to ticking both the ‘workable’ and ‘not morally reprehensible’ boxes. Progress, of a sort.