How will the proposed crackdown on smoking work?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has outlined plans to introduce a new law that would stop children who turn 14 this year and those younger from ever legally buying cigarettes or tobacco in England.

The Government has called the move the “most significant public health intervention in a generation”.

It is hoped it will prevent tens of thousands of deaths and save the NHS billions of pounds.

– What has been announced?

Anyone born on or after January 1 2009 – in effect anyone who is 14 or younger now – will not legally be able to buy cigarettes in England during their lives, as the smoking age is raised by one year every year, meaning they will never catch up.

Mr Sunak said the move would mean “a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette and that they and their generation can grow up smoke-free”.

Conservative Party Conference 2023
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Government hopes it will lead to up to 1.7 million fewer people smoking by 2075, and has the potential for smoking to be phased out completely among young people as early as 2040.

Smoking will not be criminalised and the phased approach means anyone who can legally buy cigarettes now will not be prevented from doing so.

However, older people may have to carry ID if they want to buy cigarettes in the future.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of current adult smokers in the UK in 2022 was 12.9%, or 6.4 million people.

Based on the ONS population projections, currently 21% of the UK population is not allowed to buy cigarettes due to their age.

POLITICS Tories Smoking
(PA Graphics)

In 2019, the Government outlined its ambition to make England “smoke-free” by 2030, meaning just 5% of the population would be smokers.

– When will the policy come into effect?

Mr Sunak said the vote on the proposal in Parliament will be a “free vote” and it is a “matter of conscience” for MPs.

The Labour Party said it “will not play politics with public health” and it would “lend” the Prime Minister the votes he needs to get the law passed.

However, Downing Street has not said when a free vote will be held.

– How did health chiefs react to the news?

Chief medical officer for England, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, welcomed the approach and said: “Becoming addicted to cigarettes in early life is one of the worst things that can happen for future health.

“Preventing people becoming addicted to smoking and helping those who smoke to quit are two of the most important measures we can take to improve health.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, added: “We look forward to the day when smoking is no longer responsible for avoidable ill health and perinatal mortality in babies and young children, nor the leading cause of premature death in adults.”

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive at Asthma and Lung UK, also hailed the “incredibly positive step forward” which she said “will protect the next generation from developing lung conditions caused by this deadly addiction”.

– What do industry and pro-smoking groups think?

Almost £1 billion was wiped off the shares of the UK’s largest tobacco companies after the announcement on Wednesday.

British American Tobacco (BAT), which owns the brands Dunhill and Lucky Strike, had £600 million knocked off its market value while Imperial Brand’s shares fell by 2.4%, leading to a market value dip of about £340 million.

Imperial said it would engage with the Government but also cautioned over the policy move.

Almost £1 billion was wiped off the market value of the UK’s largest tobacco companies yesterday (PA)

Supreme, which makes disposable vaping products, also saw its shares move lower on Wednesday.

Smokers’ group Forest called the policy “creeping prohibition”.

Director Simon Clark told BBC Breakfast on Thursday that he does not think the policy will work.

“Prohibition very, very rarely works,” he added. “We’re infantilising the population, there’s an important principle at stake here, which is freedom of choice and personal responsibility.”

– Have any other countries brought in policies like this?

New Zealand announced similar measures last year as part of its Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan.

From January 1 2027, anyone in the country born after January 1, 2009 will not be able to buy cigarettes or tobacco products.

New Zealand will also limit the number of retailers able to sell tobacco products from July 1 2024 and from April 1 2025 it will limit the amount of nicotine allowed in tobacco products.

– What about vaping?

Alongside the measures on cigarettes and tobacco, the Government has said it will crack down on vaping among children.

A consultation will be brought forward looking at vape flavours, marketing and packaging (Nicholas T. Ansell/PA)

The Government said vaping is “rightly” used as a tool to quit smoking, but added: “The health advice is clear, if you don’t smoke, don’t vape and children should never vape”.

The consultation will look at restricting the sale of disposable vapes, which the Government said are “clearly linked” to the rise in youth vaping.

Flavours could also be restricted, while tighter regulations may be brought in for packaging and point-of-sale displays.

The move comes amid mounting pressure from campaigners and health groups about the rise in youth vaping.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has previously called for a ban on disposable vapes, saying the habit “is fast becoming an epidemic among children”.

The ONS reported a rise in vaping among young people, with 15.5% of 16 to 24-year-olds reporting vaping daily or on occasion in 2022, up from 11.1% in 2021.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –