Boris Johnson evokes cigar-chomping Winston Churchill in swipe at ‘mad’ UK smoking ban

LONDON — Every British politician loves to reference Winston Churchill. Few do it quite like Boris Johnson.

A crowd in Canada was on Wednesday treated to the sight of Johnson, a former Conservative prime minister, railing against his Conservative successor Rishi Sunak’s proposals to ban anyone born after 2008 from ever purchasing tobacco. A vote is expected in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.

“The party of Winston Churchill wants to ban [cigars]?” complained Johnson, speaking on stage at a conference in Ottawa. “Donnez-moi un break, as they say in Quebec. It’s just mad.”

In 2014 Johnson penned “The Churchill Factor”, a biography of his hero, writing that Britain’s wartime leader had “saved our civilization” and “incarnated something essential about the British character.”

Churchill was renowned for his ubiquitous cigars, and some Tory rebels have even threatened to vote against the government’s proposals unless cigars were exempt from the ban.

Another former Tory prime minister, Liz Truss, is among those to have criticized the proposals as “profoundly unconservative,” insisting the government should not be “seeking to extend the nanny state.”

Though insisting the struggling Tory Party can still “turn things around in the next few months,” Johnson was scathing about the “absolutely nuts” things “being done in the name of conservatism.” 

Among various complaints, Johnson demanded increased defense spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguing that “now is the moment for an even more robust posture” against Vladimir Putin.

Responding for the government, U.K. Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told LBC Radio that Churchill’s cigar-chomping habits in Downing Street would not have been affected by the government’s proposed ban.

“Winston Churchill as an adult would still be able to smoke his cigars,” she said. “What we’re doing with this legislation is stopping children from taking it up in their teenage years.”