It will be illegal for people born in or after 2009 to buy tobacco products, under new Government plans to ban smoking for future generations.
During his speech closing the Conservative Conference in Manchester today, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proposed to raise the smoking age by one year each year to prevent young people from ever taking up smoking.
The Government will bring forward legislation making it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.
The law will stop children turning 14 or younger this year from ever legally being sold tobacco products, raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population.
Mr Sunak told the conference: ‘In our country smoking causes one in four cancer deaths. It kills 64,000 people a year and leads to almost one hospital admission every minute. It significantly increases the risk of strokes, heart disease, dementia, and stillbirth.
‘The number of people smoking is down by two thirds since the 1970s. But if we are to do the right thing for our kids we must try and stop teenagers taking up cigarettes in the first place.
‘Because without a significant change thousands of children will start smoking in the coming years and have their lives cut short as a result.
‘So, I propose that in future we raise the smoking age by one year, every year. That means a 14 year old today will never legally be sold a cigarette and that they—and their generation—can grow up smoke free.’
To support current smokers to quit, the Government promised more funding for local ‘stop smoking services’ to help support around 360,000 people to try and quit, including through swapping to vapes.
But the Government also said that too many children ‘are becoming addicted at a young age’, which carries a significant risk, and it will consider how to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children.
The proposals the Government is looking at include:
- restricting vape flavours
- regulating vape packaging and product presentation
- regulating point of sale displays
- restricting the sale of disposable vapes
- introducing an age restriction for non-nicotine vapes
- exploring further restrictions for other nicotine consumer products such as nicotine pouches
- preventing industry giving out free samples of vapes to children
It also promised to strengthen enforcement activity, including:
- providing £30 million additional funding per year (from April 2024) to support enforcement agencies such as Trading Standards, Border Force and HMRC to implement and enforce the law (including enforcement of underage sales) and tackle illicit trade
- HMRC and Border Force publishing an updated Illicit Tobacco Strategy, which will: set out plans to target illegal activity at all stages of the supply chain to stamp out opportunities for criminals in light of the new rules; establish a multi-agency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, led by HMRC and Border Force, to oversee future evolution of our illicit tobacco strategy
- introducing new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines (Fixed Penalty Notices) to enforce age of sale legislation of tobacco products, as well as vapes
- enhancing online age verification to stop underage sales of tobacco products and vapes online
Health and social care committee chair Steve Brine said he is ‘fully supportive’ of moves toward a smoke-free generation as it will save tens of thousands of lives.
However, increasing the legal age to purchase cigarettes year on year will not help the people who are addicted today, he added.
He said: ‘I urge the Government to strengthen further tobacco control policies to tackle the levels of smoking which remains one of the largest causes of health disparities and preventable ill health.
‘The Health and Social Care committee, which I chair, has been very clear that both the Government and the vaping industry need to take decisive action to protect children from the harmful effects of vaping and we have urged tougher restrictions on packaging and the marketing of vapes in line with those that already apply to tobacco products.
‘We have heard compelling evidence about the benefits of vaping for smokers who want to quit or who want a cheaper alternative to tobacco.
‘We need to think very carefully and follow the evidence about the role vaping, including non-disposable vapes, play in giving adults a pathway out of smoking tobacco products.’
Last year a damning review led by Dr Javed Khan had backed England following in the footsteps of New Zealand, and recommended ‘increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year until no-one can buy a tobacco product in this country’.
Dr Khan said with smoking costing the NHS £2.4 billion every year, prevention must become part of its DNA and that the health service must do more to offer smokers advice and support to quit at every interaction whether through GPs, hospitals, psychiatrists, midwives, pharmacists, dentists or optometrists.
Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: ‘We warmly welcome the announcement that the government plans to implement a phased smoking ban, as recommended by an independent review led by Javed Khan last year.
‘It suggests the government is willing to bite the bullet and take big decisions to prevent illness and improve health.
‘If implemented correctly, this policy will save lives and reduce inequalities. Smoking is still one of the single largest causes of preventable deaths, killing tens of thousands of people every year in England, and smoking is three to four times as common in some disadvantaged communities compared to the wealthiest.’