UK’s Path to Phasing Out Cigarettes


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced his intention to extend the ban on the sale of cigarettes so that the United Kingdom gradually becomes a tobacco-free country.

“I propose that in future we increase the (legal) smoking age by one year each year,” declared the head of the Conservative government during a speech at his party conference in Manchester. “This means that a 14-year-old today will never be legally sold a cigarette,” he said, speaking of a “tobacco-free generation”.

Currently, the legal age to buy cigarettes in the UK is 18. But “four out of five smokers started before they were 20,” said Rishi Sunak. “We need to try to stop teenagers from starting to smoke.” “This could almost completely eliminate smoking among young people by 2040,” according to a Downing Street press release.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United Kingdom, the statement said. It causes approximately one in four cancer deaths. The costs generated, particularly for the health system, “amount to 17 billion pounds sterling each year”, or almost 20 billion euros.

The example of New Zealand

“Smoking will not be criminalized and our progressive approach means that anyone who can legally buy cigarettes today will not be prevented from doing so in the future,” says Downing Street.

If these measures are adopted, the UK will follow the example of New Zealand, which is gradually implementing a near-total tobacco ban by preventing anyone born after 2008 from buying cigarettes indefinitely, as well as ‘by reducing the amount of nicotine in products available for sale.

The British government also announced on Wednesday a consultation on vaping, in order to limit its appeal and access for young people. “Vaping among young people has tripled in the last three years,” says Downing Street. “We must act before the phenomenon becomes endemic.”

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