Sunak announces crackdown on smoking with increases to buying age

No one aged 14 or below today will be allowed to legally buy a cigarette in the UK at any point in their life, ITV News Correspondent Martin Stew reports

The legal age for buying tobacco could rise every year after the prime minister announced new proposals to crack down on smoking.

Rishi Sunak said more must be done to “try and stop teenagers taking up cigarettes in the first place”.

He told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that “a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette,” under new legislation.

“If we are to do the right thing for our kids, we must try and stop teenagers taking up cigarettes in the first place,” he said.

“Because without a significant change thousands of children will start smoking in the coming years and have their lives cut short as a result.”

He added: “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.”

Sunak's proposals would mean that anyone currently under the age of 14 would not be able to purchase cigarettes in their lifetime. Credit: PA

Last year a major review led by Dr Javed Khan recommended England follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which is planning to impose a gradually rising smoking age to prevent tobacco being sold to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.

Dr Khan recommended “increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year until no-one can buy a tobacco product in this country”.

In his Government-commissioned report published in June 2022, Dr Khan said without urgent action, England would miss the 2030 target to be smoke-free by at least seven years, with the poorest areas not meeting it until 2044.

He put the annual cost to society of smoking at about £17 billion – £2.4 billion to the NHS alone.

The legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products in England and Wales is 18, having been raised from 16 in 2007 by the previous Labour government.

Adam Briggs, Senior Policy Fellow at The Health Foundation, said: "We welcome the Prime Minister's announcement today to raise the age of tobacco sales from 18 by one year every year. Smoking causes around 70,000 deaths and 500,000 hospital admissions in England annually and is the leading cause of differences in life expectancy between the most and least deprived communities."

The proposed ban on cigarettes has already garnered some critics, with it being dubbed 'prohibitionist' and "full of holes" by a free market think tank.

Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Not only is this prohibitionist wheeze hideously illiberal and unconservative, it is full of holes.

"It will create a two tier society in which adults buy cigarettes informally from slightly older adults and will inflate the black market in general.

“It may well breach equalities legislation and will very likely be challenged in the courts. It will certainly create huge problems for retailers and may ultimately require a system of national ID cards."

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