UK Prime Minister Looking to Phase Out Cigarette Sales by Raising Legal Smoking Age Every Year

New Zealand passed a similar law last year that bans anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009 from buying cigarettes, starting in 2027.

Getty Images: Henry Nicholls/WPA Pool

Rishi Sunak, prime minister of the United Kingdom, announced a plan to annually raise the legal smoking age by one year each time, with an eye toward phasing out the sale of cigarettes in the country.

According to The Independent, Sunak positioned the proposal, which was delivered at the annual Conservative Party conference, as being directed at the accessibility of cigarettes for today's youth. "I propose that in [the] future we raise the smoking age by one year every year," he said. "That means a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette and that they and their generation can grow up smoke free."

Even though selling cigarettes to anyone below the age of 18 in the UK is illegal, Sunak argued in his speech that four out of five people started smoking by the time they were 20 years old and became addicted to the point that they were unable to quit.

Whenever there's a discussion about young people and smoking, the topic of vaping is never too far behind. Sunak said he was concerned about how e-cigs are marketed toward the youth. Since an alleged "one in five children have used vapes," the prime minister vowed to look into vape flavors and packaging to combat the issue.

Sunak shared other aspects of his argument for the policy on Twitter, pointing out that smoking is accountable for one in four cancer-related deaths and causes 64,000 deaths per year.

2/ Smoking is the number one preventable cause of ill health causing 64,000 deaths a year in England.

It puts a huge burden on the NHS, and costs the country £17 billion a year.

We know more than four in five smokers start before the age of 20.

We need to stop the start.

— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) October 4, 2023
Twitter: @RishiSunak

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association warned of people venturing down potentially dangerous avenues if the policy were implemented, in addition to claiming the ban would be an attack on an adult's rights.

Reuters reported the plan would need to be passed through a free vote in Parliament, where members could ignore party associations.

A law was passed in New Zealand last year that will prohibit anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009 from purchasing cigarettes. The ban, which does not go into effect until 2027 when those individuals turn 18 years old, comes with a penalty of around $96,000.

Sunak also garnered scrutiny this week by expressing his stance on transgender people, claiming his party "shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be." If it's unclear where he stands on the issue, he clearly laid it out by declaring "a man is a man and a woman is a woman," adding that it's "just common sense."

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