What is Rishi Sunak’s smoking ban and who will it affect?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a visit to a school near Boston, England, in November 2023
Rishi Sunak said future generations would be able to grow up 'smoke-free' - DARREN STAPLES/AFP

Rishi Sunak’s flagship smoking ban passed its first hurdle in the Commons on Tuesday, despite nearly half of Tory MPs failing to support the legislation.

Labour MPs helped push through the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which would bar anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes.

A total of 165 Conservatives either abstained or voted against the legislation, while 180 Tories supported it. Across the House, 383 voted for the ban and 67 opposed it.

The Prime Minister is understood to see the policy as a major part of his legacy ahead of the next general election, which is expected later this year.

Here, The Telegraph takes an in-depth look at Mr Sunak’s plans.

What will the new smoking ban involve?

Under the plans set out by the Government, the legal age of purchase for cigarettes will rise annually from the age of 18 to long beyond pension age in an attempt to make smoking obsolete.

Smoking would not be criminalised, with the phased approach meaning that anybody who can legally buy cigarettes now would not be stopped from doing so in the future.

By 2043, only those aged 35 or over would be able to buy cigarettes legally, while shopkeepers would be able to request ID from those seeking to purchase tobacco.

The legislation also includes a ban on disposable vapes and new restrictions on flavours, with only four flavours of vape set to be allowed.

An advertising van drives past Parliament with a message urging MPs to vote for the smoking ban
Some charities, such as Cancer Research UK, have backed the plans - Karl Black / Alamy Live News/www.alamy.com

What has Rishi Sunak said about the ban?

Announcing the plans at the Conservative Party Conference in October, Mr Sunak told delegates it would mean that “a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette and that they, and their generation, can grow up smoke-free”.

He cited a 30 per cent drop in smoking among under-18s when the smoking age was raised to 18 and noted that it placed “huge pressures on the NHS… and costs our country £17 billion a year”.

Mr Sunak said: “We have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter, significantly ease those pressures and protect our children, and we should take it. This is not a values judgment on people who smoke.

“I don’t believe it would be fair to take away the rights of anyone to smoke who currently does so, and the vote on this in Parliament will be a free vote, as the bar on smoking in public places was and raising the smoking age to 18 was.”

Do Conservative MPs support the proposals?

A total of 165 Conservatives either abstained or voted against the legislation on Tuesday. Specifically, 59 Tories opposed it.

Kemi Badenoch, who is widely seen as a Tory leadership hopeful, voted against the Bill, citing that legally competent adults should not be treated differently.

“I do not support the approach this Bill is taking and so will be voting against it,” she tweeted.

“We should not treat legally competent adults differently in this way, where people born a day apart will have permanently different rights. Among other reasons it will create difficulties with enforcement. This burden will fall not on the state but on private businesses.”

Liz Truss, the former prime minister, also voted against the Bill. “I think the whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic and it effectively infantilises people,” she said.

“People want to make their own decisions about what they eat and what they drink and how they enjoy themselves.”

Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick also voted against the Bill, while Penny Mordaunt and Priti Patel abstained.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, floated a similar ban almost a year before Mr Sunak’s announcement.

He has vowed to “come down like a ton of bricks” on the vaping industry if Labour wins the next general election.

What will the punishment be for breaking the smoking law?

A fixed penalty notice regime will be introduced by Clause 24 of the Bill, giving authorities the option to issue an immediate on-the-spot fine rather than pursuing a prosecution in the courts.

Trading Standards officers would issue fines to anyone selling vaping products to under-18s or selling cigarettes to people born on or after Jan 1 2009 – affecting all of Generation Alpha. These fines could be as high as £2,500.

Who will be punished?

Businesses and individuals alike could be punished for breaching the smoking ban.

For underage sales, either the shop worker responsible for the sale or the business itself could receive a fine.

Anyone buying or attempting to buy a cigarette on behalf of someone too young to buy one themselves would be liable to receive a fixed penalty notice.

If 28 days pass after the fine is issued and it has not been paid, authorities could proceed to prosecute individuals or businesses in the courts at any point in the following six months.

How much money will businesses lose?

While it remains to be seen how far newsagents and convenience stores will find themselves out of pocket, the only other smoking ban to be introduced in an advanced economy does provide a cautionary tale.

New Zealand introduced a similar smoking ban to Mr Sunak’s under Jacinda Ardern, its former prime minister, but the measure proved short-lived, with the new government scrapping the legislation at the end of last year.

Owners of newsagents and corner shops in New Zealand said they lost revenue even with subsidies from its government.