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Monday, March 4, 2024

UK PM Rishi Sunak eyes raising cigarette age for sales ban

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proposed gradually raising the legal age for cigarette purchases in England by one year each year, with the goal of eventually making smoking illegal for the entire population, particularly young people.

Sunak presented this plan at the annual Conservative Party conference, emphasizing the aim to prevent teenagers from starting smoking.

Currently, it’s illegal to sell cigarettes or tobacco products to individuals under 18 throughout the UK. Sunak’s proposal would prevent those who turn 14 this year and younger individuals from ever legally purchasing cigarettes in England if approved by Parliament. It’s important to note that this change would apply only in England, not in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Sunak stressed the importance of preventing young people from taking up smoking, as the majority of smokers start before the age of 20. The government clarified that smoking itself would not be criminalized, and those currently of legal age to buy cigarettes would not be affected by the changes.

While the number of smokers in the UK has significantly decreased over the decades, there are still approximately 6.4 million smokers, constituting around 13% of the population. The legal age for tobacco sales was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007, resulting in a 30% reduction in smoking prevalence among 16 and 17-year-olds.

Health experts welcomed the plan to incrementally raise the legal smoking age, similar to measures implemented in New Zealand. Additionally, Sunak announced intentions to restrict the availability of e-cigarettes to children due to the significant increase in youth vaping over the past three years.

Tobacco companies’ shares declined in response to the announcement, reflecting concerns about potential impacts on the industry.

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