The age at which people can purchase cigarettes and tobacco in England should increase by one year annually until no one can acquire them, according to the prime minister. Rishi Sunak stated that parliamentarians would have an unfettered vote on the issue.
Under the proposal, the minimum age to purchase tobacco would gradually increase from 18 to 21, so that a 14-year-old would never be able to do so.
A government-commissioned review proposed the idea in 2022. Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Mr Sunak said he believed it was the correct step to tackle the leading cause of preventable ill-health.
As well as the increasing risk of strokes, heart disease, dementia, and stillbirth, smoking causes one in four cancer-related fatalities. "There is no safe level of smoking," he declared.
Since the 1970s, smoking prevalence has declined. However, there are still over five million smokers in England and six million in the United Kingdom as a whole.
Currently, one in nine 18 to 24-year-olds smokes, according to sources. Mr. Sunak stated at the conference, "If we want to do the right thing for our children, we must prevent youngsters from smoking in the first place.
He stated that by age 20, four out of five smokers have initiated their habit. Later, the overwhelming majority of addicts attempt to quit, but many fail due to their addiction.
Javed Khan, the former chief executive of Barnardo's, proposed gradually increasing the smoking age last year after being requested by ministers to consider new approaches to combating smoking.
At the time, the government, commanded by Boris Johnson, claimed that such a move was unlikely to occur. Mr. Sunak has resolved to support it as a means of achieving the government's goal of a smoke-free England by 2030, defined as less than 5% of the population smoking.
Regarding the vote in parliament, he stated that there would be no government command dictating how Conservative legislators should vote. The prime minister stated, "It is a matter of conscience, and I want you all and the nation to know where mine lies."
The proposal on raising the age of sale of cigarettes is similar to laws being introduced in New Zealand, where purchasing tobacco products will remain banned for anyone born after 2008.
Mr. Sunak also stated that the government would consider limiting the sale of disposable e-cigarettes and examining the flavorings and packaging of the devices in an effort to combat the growing number of minors who use them. A complete prohibition on their sale could be one option.
Simon Clark, a lobbyist for the group Forest, referred to it as "creeping prohibition" "No one will quit smoking. "Anyone who wishes to smoke will purchase tobacco from abroad or from illegal sources."
Michelle Mitchell of Cancer Research UK stated that the announcement regarding the smoking age was a "crucial step." If implemented, the prime minister will deserve high praise for placing the health of British citizens ahead of the tobacco lobby's interests.
Deborah Arnott, from the advocacy group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), stated that the measures announced would hasten the day when smoking becomes obsolete.