Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced that the Government is creating the first smokefree generation, by bringing forward legislation so that children turning 14 this year or younger will never be legally sold tobacco products. This will be one of the most significant public health interventions in a generation, saving tens of thousands of lives and saving the NHS billions of pounds.
Smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer – causing around 1 in 4 cancer deaths and leading to 64,000 deaths per year in England. It puts huge pressure on the NHS. Almost every minute of every day someone is admitted to hospital because of smoking, and up to 75,000 GP appointments could be attributed to smoking each month – equivalent to over 100 appointments every hour.
The difference between tobacco and other legal products is that there is no safe level of smoking. Smoking cannot be part of a balanced lifestyle or diet in the way sugar, salt or alcohol for example can.
The proposed new legislation will make it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products in England – effectively raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population. This has the potential to phase out smoking in young people almost completely as early as 2040. It could mean up to 1.7 million fewer people smoke by 2075 with the potential to avoid up to 115,000 cases of strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and other lung diseases.
The emphasis of the legislation will be on those who sell tobacco products or buy it on behalf of someone else – the Government has never and will not criminalise smoking in this country. Our phased approach means that anyone who can legally be sold cigarettes now will never be prevented from doing so in the future. The phased approach will also ease the burden on retailers. We are intentionally not taking steps such as proposing a national licensing scheme, which may have placed a greater burden on convenience stores.
The measures we are announcing demonstrate this Government’s commitment to protect future generations from the harms of smoking and I hope the public will support our steps to avert an entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the UK, and do what is right for the long-term future of our children.
1/ In the UK smoking causes 1 in 4 cancer deaths.
So I’m proposing changing the law so children turning 14 or younger this year can never legally be sold cigarettes in their lifetime.
A smoke-free generation.
None of us want our children to grow up to smoke.
Here's why 👇🧵 pic.twitter.com/pbym3E6cck
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) October 4, 2023
This column was first published in The Forester newspaper.