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UK smoking ban: everything you need to know

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak aims to have the new system in force by 2027.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak aims to have the new system in force by 2027.

UK MPs have taken a step toward creating a “smoke-free generation” by backing the government’s landmark plans to tighten restrictions on smoking.

Under the legislation, known as the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, anyone born after 2008 will be banned from buying cigarettes, effectively creating a generation with no legal access to tobacco products.

Despite some opposition, including from within the Conservative Party, an initial vote on the bill passed with significant support, including backing from Labour MPs.

How will it work?

The legislation will gradually raise the legal age for buying cigarettes each year, starting from 18, with the goal of preventing anyone born after 2008 from ever legally purchasing cigarettes.

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This measure, set to be enforced gradually, will see the legal age for cigarette sales incrementally raised each year, meaning it is a blanket ban for those born in or after 2009. This cohort of children aged 15 or younger today will never be able to legally buy cigarettes.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak aims to have the new system in force by 2027. He is hoping to collaborate with the governments of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to implement the smoking ban across the UK.

Retailers who are caught selling tobacco and vaping products to underage individuals will face £100 fines on the spot in England and Wales, on top of existing fines of up to £2,500 that courts can impose.

The government plans to allocate £30m to enforcement efforts, including combating the black market for cigarettes.

Duty-free shops in the UK will also be subject to the new regulations, although there will be no ban on bringing legally acquired cigarettes into the country from abroad.

Why does the UK government want to ban smoking?

The move, inspired by similar initiatives in countries like New Zealand, comes as a result of the government’s commitment to reducing smoking-related harm and creating a healthier future for the UK population.

According to the government, creating a “smoke-free generation” could prevent more than 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases by 2100.

The plan was first announced by Sunak in his speech at the Conservative Party conference last year.

Ahead of the vote yesterday, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty gave his support to the bill. He said that smoking is a “really serious health problem” and called it “doubly problematic [because] the great majority of smokers wish they had never started”.

Why are some opposed to it?

The House of Commons voted in favour of the plan by 383 votes to 67.

However, some dissenting voices within the Conservative Party, who were given a free vote to cast their die against Sunak without consequences, were unhappy with the nature of the bill.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, leading 59 Tory MPs, voiced reservations about the unequal treatment of adults under the proposed legislation and rejected the plan over concerns it limits people’s freedom of choice.

“I have significant concerns and appreciate the PM making this a free vote,” she posted on X. “It gives me the opportunity to express my personal view, outside collective responsibility.

“We should not treat legally competent adults differently in this way, where people born a day apart will have permanently different rights,” Badenoch added.

Ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss has labelled the ban as “profoundly unconservative”. Her predecessor Boris Johnson also criticised the plan, calling it “mad” and “nuts”.

Disposable vapes are also set to be banned in the UK amid a crackdown on the colourful and fruity-flavoured e-cigarettes, which some say are wrongly designed to appeal to children.

This law is expected to enter into force at the end of 2024 or the start of 2025.