King Charles delivered a historic speech at the state opening of parliament, outlining Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s policy proposals for the upcoming year. Among the pivotal announcements was the introduction of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, aimed at creating a “smoke-free generation.” This landmark declaration was met with widespread acclaim from health leaders, including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
In his address to Parliament, King Charles stated, “My government will introduce legislation to create a smokefree generation by restricting the sale of tobacco so that children currently aged 14 or younger can never be sold cigarettes, and to restrict the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children.” The proposed legislation will incrementally raise the age at which individuals can legally purchase tobacco, ultimately ensuring that children born after January 1, 2009, can never buy cigarettes.
The Critics and Supporters
While the smoking ban has been hailed as “the biggest public health intervention in a generation” by health campaigners and experts, it has also garnered its share of critics. Former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, along with ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, have vehemently opposed the proposed legislation, labeling it “illiberal” and akin to “creeping prohibition.”
The Tobacco and Vapes Bill goes beyond tobacco control, addressing vaping as well. The government is considering imposing additional taxes on e-cigarettes, which are currently available for as little as £5. King Charles emphasized the need to restrict e-cigarette sales and marketing to children, citing the imperative to combat the “single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability, and death: smoking.”
Potential Impact and Challenges
If enacted, the phased smoking ban is anticipated to result in 1.7 million fewer smokers by 2075, saving tens of thousands of lives and preventing up to 115,000 cases of strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and other lung diseases. Notably, it is estimated that tobacco duties will contribute £10.4 billion to the Treasury this year, but this revenue is expected to gradually decrease as legal sales phase out.
The government’s strategy aligns with recommendations made in a Government-commissioned report by Javed Khan, former chief of a children’s charity. Dr. Khan’s report urged England to become smoke-free by 2030, which means less than five percent of the population would smoke. His proposals, including banning tobacco sales in supermarkets, restricting smoking in public places, and age-restricting films and TV shows featuring tobacco, aim to confront a pressing issue. Smoking costs the UK £17 billion annually, with half a million hospital admissions attributed to smoking-related illnesses each year.
The path to a smoke-free UK faces challenges from within the government, with former PMs Johnson and Truss, among others, opposing these measures. As discussions and debates unfold in Parliament, the UK stands at a crossroads, balancing the public health benefits of the smoking ban with the concerns of critics who fear unintended consequences.”