London [UK]: The UK government is set to introduce a new law to stop children who turn 14 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes in England.
This comes in a bid to create the first ‘smoke-free generation’, as per the UK government’s official website.
The new law will make it an offence for anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, to be sold tobacco products – 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.
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said: “No parent ever wants their child to start smoking. It is a deadly habit – killing tens of thousands of people and costing our NHS billions each year, while also being hugely detrimental to our productivity as a country.”
“I want to build a better and brighter future for our children, so that’s why I want to stamp out smoking for good. These changes will mean our kids will never be able to buy a cigarette, preventing them from getting hooked and protecting their health both now and in the future,” he added.
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, with almost one hospital admission every minute attributable to smoking and up to 75,000 GP appointments each month taken up by smoking-related illness.
It is also one of the biggest drivers of health inequalities across the country. Smoking rates in pregnancy also vary hugely, with as many as 20 per cent of pregnant women smoking in some parts of the country – increasing the chance of stillbirth by almost 50 per cent, as per the UK government website.
Smoking also costs the economy pound 17 billion a year, through smoking-related lost earnings, unemployment, early deaths and costs to the NHS.
These changes amount to one of the most significant public health interventions by the government in a generation. If the government does not act, the independent review published in 2022 estimated that nearly half a million people will die from smoking by 2030.