The ‘political courage’ shown to ban smoking in pubs and make seatbelts mandatory should be used once again to eradicate smoking and extend the sugar tax, a former ex-chancellor has said.

George Osborne has urged the government to tackle obesity and cancer by raising the legal age for tobacco and introducing a sugar tax on fruit juices, milkshakes, biscuits and cakes.

In 2016, the Conservative ex-chancellor brought in a new sugar tax on soft drinks including Coca Cola, but it didn’t apply to milk drinks or fruit juices.

Today, the annual spend on the treatment of obesity and diabetes is greater than the amount spent on the police, the fire service and judicial system combined.

His comments follow a move by New Zealand to ban smoking for the next generation by gradually raising the smoking age, so that those aged 14 or younger will never be able to purchase cigarettes.

Speaking to the Times Health Commission, 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 to ban them and police them and make it less readily available. I thought that was a compelling public health intervention.”

Discussing the sugar tax and comparing it to the approach taken to ban smoking in pubs and make seatbelts the law, Osborne said: “They have all been opposed at the time by vociferous lobbies. It’s taken quite a lot of political courage by the different administrations to get them done. But no one now would reintroduce smoking in pubs and no one now would say you shouldn’t wear a seatbelt.”

Osborne also discussed the reaction to his introduction of a sugar tax from some Conservative backbenchers, who labelled the move “illiberal and patronising” and “nanny statism at its worst”.

He said only a Labour government could bring about radical healthcare changes as the Conservatives were “absolutely terrified when it comes to the NHS because it’s going to be constantly accused of things in a secret plan, so it’s actually rather timid in regards to healthcare reform”.

Osborne also said that Tony Blair’s government was “far and away the most audacious and productive period of health reform” in his political life.

Commenting on New Zealand’s drive to ban smoking, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said earlier this year: “The New Zealand government are doing it. We want to see how that works…we’re going to have to think radically. What the government have done to the NHS is a disgrace. It’s going to take time to fix it and fresh radical thinking and that’s what Labour’s about.”

Smoking is estimated to cost the NHS £2.4bn and £1.2bn for social care, according to the charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

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