UK

Sunak faces Tory rebellion over landmark ‘smoke-free generation’ bill

The prime minister is facing another rebellion from his party over his plans to ban young people from ever smoking again.

Should the Tobacco and Vapes Bill eventually be passed into law, it would be an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009.

This means children aged 15 or younger today will never legally be able to buy a cigarette.

The plan was one of Rishi Sunak‘s three key policies he announced at the Tory party conference last year.

However, some more laissez-faire Conservatives have criticised the ban, meaning the prime minister could have to rely on support from the other side of the Commons to get the bill over the line.

Opponents of the ban include Mr Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, who has described the plans as “profoundly unconservative” and Boris Johnson, who branded the move “nuts”.

Tory MPs have been granted a free vote on the legislation, and several are expected to oppose it when it has its first full debate in the Commons on Tuesday.

More on Smoking

However, Labour will back the proposals, making it likely the legislation will clear this first hurdle regardless of Conservative opposition.

The bill would not criminalise smoking itself, and those aged 18 or over can forever buy cigarettes without legal repercussions.

However, older people may have to carry ID if they want to buy cigarettes in the future.

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Youngster on ‘smoke-free generation’

The ban aims to stop people from smoking even before they start as the government pointed to its highly addictive nature with four in five smokers picking it up before the age of 20, remaining addicted for life.

Shops that flout the rules will face on-the-spot fines – money which the government says it will use for further crackdowns.

Earlier this year, New Zealand‘s new coalition government repealed what would have been a world-first ban on young people ever being able to buy cigarettes.

UK’s biggest preventable killer

Smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer and is responsible for about 80,000 deaths yearly, causing cancer, lung and heart diseases and chronic bronchitis among other health issues.

The Department of Health and Social Care said in England alone, almost every minute someone with a smoking-related condition is admitted to hospital.

It also costs the NHS and economy an estimated £17bn a year – exceeding the £10bn annual revenue brought in from tobacco taxes.

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Read more:
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Victoria Atkins, health and social care secretary, said the bill would “save thousands of lives”, help the NHS and improve the UK’s productivity.

Ms Atkins said: “The truth is that there is no safe level of tobacco consumption. It is uniquely harmful and that is why we are taking this important action today to protect the next generation.”

Numerous heads have reiterated their support for the bill including Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, Deborah Arnott, head of charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), and the chief of the British Heart Foundation, Dr Charmaine Griffiths.

Ms Arnott said: “New research published by ASH shows that the majority of tobacco retailers and the public, including smokers, support the legislation and the smoke-free generation ambition it is designed to deliver.

“This historic legislation will consign smoking to the ‘ash heap of history’.”

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