Sunak considering total ban on cigarettes for future generations

Ban would effectively stop young people from ever being old enough to buy cigarettes
Ban would effectively stop young people from ever being old enough to buy cigarettes - iStockphoto

Rishi Sunak is considering effectively banning smoking for future generations by gradually raising the age at which people can buy cigarettes.

The Prime Minister is looking at steadily increasing the legal smoking age for those born after 2008, meaning they would never be able to purchase a tobacco product in the UK.

It would see Britain follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which recently introduced similar measures aimed at preventing children from picking up the habit.

Under the new laws, the country’s smoking age of 18 will be raised each year until it applies to the whole population.

Mr Sunak is weighing up a similar set of measures for Britain, The Guardian reported, which would effectively ban anyone born on or after Jan 1 from ever buying cigarettes.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not deny that a New Zealand-style policy is on the cards, but it is understood the move is not being actively pursued by Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State.

Labour said earlier this year it would consult on similar measures in order to eradicate smoking by 2030.

‘Curious’ how it will work out

Speaking to the BBC in January, Wes Streeting,  the shadow health secretary, said his party would like to see how the New Zealand laws work out.

“I am genuinely curious,” he said. “If we are going to get the NHS back on track, we need to focus on public health.

“I am curious to see where the voters are on this, where the country is and what the appetite is for change. We are going to have to think radically. What the Government has done to the NHS is a disgrace. It is going to take time to fix it and fresh, radical thinking.”

The proposals were floated last year in an independent review commissioned by Sajid Javid, the former health secretary,  which called for radical action to reduce smoking rates and make the habit “obsolete” within two decades.

Separately, the Government is looking at adding anti-smoking messages to the inside of cigarette packets to dissuade people from lighting up.

The slips of paper inserted into packs would list benefits from quitting smoking, such as improved breathing and a decreased risk of heart attack.

Still leading cause of death

The idea was included in a new consultation launched last month. Smoking is still the single leading preventable cause of illness and mortality in the UK, resulting in around four per cent of all hospital admissions, according to the DHSC.

A similar approach has been adopted in countries such as Canada, Israel, and Australia.

Ministers are also set to ban disposable vapes, having decided the devices are overwhelmingly targeted at children.

They are often sold in bright colours and with flavours such as “bubble gum”, while in some shops they are positioned by front counters near sweets.

A DHSC spokesman said: “Smoking is a deadly habit – it kills tens of thousands of people each year and places a huge burden on the NHS and the economy.

“We want to encourage more people to quit and meet our ambition to be smoke-free by 2030, which is why we have already taken steps to reduce smoking rates. This includes providing one million smokers in England with free vape kits via our world-first ‘swap to stop’ scheme, launching a voucher scheme to incentivise pregnant women to quit and consulting on mandatory cigarette pack inserts.”