Monday, 15 April, 2024
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UK Prime Minister defends plan to phase out smoking

A plan to phase out cigarette sales in the UK, raising the legal smoking age every year by a year until eventually no one can buy tobacco, will mark the “biggest public health intervention in a generation”, the British Prime Minister says.

Rishi Sunak told the BBC there was “no safe level of smoking” when asked about restricting people’s right to choose, saying he believed it was the right step to tackle the leading cause of preventable ill health.

In another interview, he was challenged on why he was wanting to ban cigarettes yet earlier this year, he had pushed back part of the government’s anti-obesity strategy, saying he believed in “people’s right to choose”.

Originally scheduled for this month, plans to ban two-for-one junk food deals have been delayed by the government for another two years.

But Sunak told the BBC smoking cigarettes was not the same as eating crisps or a piece of cake because it could not be part of a balanced diet and there was no safe level of smoking.

“Smoking is unequivocally the single biggest preventable cause of death, disability and illness in our society,” he said.

Measures to restrict choice were “never easy”, he added but nobody would want their children or grandchildren to grow up to smoke.

Smoking rates have been declining since the 1970s, but there are still more than 5m smokers in England and 6m across the UK. Currently, one in nine 18 to 24-year-olds smokes, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Cancer Research UK’s Michelle Mitchell said the announcement was a “critical step”.

“If implemented, the Prime Minister will deserve great credit for putting the health of UK citizens ahead of the interests of the tobacco lobby.”

The idea of gradually increasing the smoking age was put forward last year by Javed Khan, the former CEO of Britain’s large children’s charity Barnardo’s, who was asked by Ministers to consider new approaches to tackling smoking.

At the time, the government, which was led by Boris Johnson, said such a move was unlikely.

But Sunak has backed the plan as a way to meet the government’s ambition for England to be smoke-free by 2030 – defined as less than 5% of the population smoking.

The proposal to raise the age of sale of cigarettes is similar to laws being introduced in New Zealand, where buying tobacco products will remain banned for anyone born after 2008.

The Welsh Government has said it planned to copy the ban, while the Scottish Government has its own plan to make Scotland tobacco-free by 2034.

Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, has said “the overwhelming majority of the medical profession, the nursing profession and all the health charities support this”.

Sunak’s plan, however, has met resistance from some quarters.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss said the party needed to “stop banning things”. It is understood she will not vote in favour of the policy, and Christopher Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the policy – if implemented – would lead to “massive black markets”.

“You’re almost certainly going to have a fairly large, informal market of smokers who are old enough to buy cigarettes selling cigarettes to people who are not old enough.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ rights group Forest, accused the Prime Minister of “dumbing down” by treating future generations of adults like children.


BBC News article – Rishi Sunak defends his plan to ban smoking for younger generation (Open access)


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Tobacco giant Philip Morris to stop selling cigarettes in UK within a decade


COVID-19 concerns cause more than a million Brits to quit smoking


Tobacco use among UK young continues to fall despite vaping popularity







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