Smoking ban: Sunak considers crackdown on cigarettes for next generation

Rishi Sunak could ban smoking as part of a crackdown to phase out the use of cigarettes for the next generation.

The prime minister is said to be looking at measures similar to those introduced by New Zealand last December, which involved steadily increasing the legal smoking age.

Last year a major review led by Dr Javed Khan backed England’s following the proposals, which suggested that if implemented by 2026, anyone aged 15 and under now would never be able to buy a cigarette.

The step would be part of what is thought to be a new consumer-focused drive by the government before next year’s election, Whitehall sources told The Guardian.

The Conservatives, who are 20 percentage points behind Labour, according to the latest Ipsos poll, are thought to be scrambling for new ideas to boost their popularity.

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 last Labour government.

In December, New Zealand banned the sale of tobacco to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009, while decreasing the number of retailers selling cigarettes. The aim was to make the country smoke-free by 2025 and save the health system billions of dollars.

The plan comes as the UK government is planning to ban single-use vapes after concerns that children could become addicted to them.

The Department of Health and Social Care is set to launch a consultation on a ban after leading medical institutions, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, called for action to protect children’s health.

In his government-commissioned report, Dr Khan said that without urgent action, England would miss the government target of 2030 for achieving a smoke-free nation by at least seven years, with the poorest areas not meeting it until 2044.

If agreed, the plan would make it illegal for the next generation to eve buy cigarettes (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
If agreed, the plan would make it illegal for the next generation to eve buy cigarettes (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking & Health (Ash), said raising the legally permitted age for tobacco use had delivered results in other countries.

“Smoking is highly addictive and only one in three smokers quits before they die, taking on average 30 attempts before they succeed,” she said.

But smokers-rights group Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest), said the move was anti-Conservative and would not stop people from smoking.

Only one in three smokers quits before they die, taking on average 30 attempts to succeed

Action on Smoking & Health

Director Simon Clark said a ban would “simply drive the sale of cigarettes underground and into the hands of criminal gangs”.

“If it is true that the prime minister wants to introduce some of the world’s toughest anti-smoking measures, denying millions of adults the freedom to choose, it will be a Conservative government in name only,” he added.

A government 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.”

Mr Sunak may also revive an idea he made during his party leadership campaign to fine people £10 for missing a GP or hospital appointment.

He scrapped the plan after getting into office last year. A No 10 spokeswoman said that, after listening to GPs, the government decided it was “not the right time” for the policy.

The prime minister this week sparked a furious civil war in the Tory party after backtracking on a key government climate pledge to reach net zero.

Downing Street has not denied that the prime minister could accept a recommendation to ban cigarette sales to young people.