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British PM Rishi Sunak faces resistance over his smoking ban plans

Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, have been leading a very vocal group of Tories who plan to vote against the bill as “un-Conservative” and taking away choice from the public.
Last Updated : 16 April 2024, 10:07 IST
Last Updated : 16 April 2024, 10:07 IST

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London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a very vocal resistance against his plans to effectively ban smoking for anyone aged 15 and younger as a new bill comes up for a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The British Indian leader proposed the Tobacco and Vapes Bill last year and declared his vision for creating a “smokefree generation” by making it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2009, which covers children aged 15.

Once it clears its parliamentary journey, the new legislation will introduce some of the world's strictest anti-smoking laws in the country.

“I propose that in future we raise the smoking age by one year, every year. 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. We know this works,” Sunak had declared at the Conservative Party conference in October last year.

As there is Opposition backing for the bill in Parliament and governing Conservative MPs have a free vote on the bill, any Tory votes against the bill will not be seen as a full-blown rebellion against the Prime Minister.

But two of Sunak’s immediate predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, have been leading a very vocal group of Tories who plan to vote against the bill as “un-Conservative” and taking away choice from the public.

“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,” said UK Health Secretary Victoria Atkins.

“This Bill will save thousands of lives, ease the strain on our NHS [National Health Service], and improve the UK’s productivity,” she said.

Under the new law, smoking itself would not be criminalised, and anyone who can legally buy tobacco will not be prevented from doing so.

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.

If passed, the bill will progress to the next stage, bringing the UK closer to creating the first smoke-free generation, the government says.

Under the plans, trading standards officers would get new powers to issue on-the-spot 100-pound fines to shops selling tobacco or vapes to children, with all the money raised going towards further enforcement.

"This historic legislation will consign smoking to the 'ash heap of history", said Deborah Arnott, head of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill would also give the government new powers to tackle youth vaping by restricting flavours and regulating the way that vapes are sold and packaged to make them less appealing to children.

The UK's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said while vaping can play a useful role in helping adult smokers to quit, non-smokers and children should never vape.

The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown, and the nicotine contained within them can be highly addictive, it warned.

According to official figures, responsible for around 80,000 deaths annually, smoking is the UK’s single biggest preventable killer and costs the NHS and economy an estimated GBP 17 billion a year—more than the GBP 10 billion annual revenue from tobacco taxation.

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Published 16 April 2024, 10:07 IST

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