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Sunak’s smoke-free measures will have “lifelong health benefits” for young people

This week, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced plans to phase out cigarette sales in England by raising the legal age of smoking every year by one year.

This week, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced plans to phase out cigarette sales in England by raising the legal age of smoking every year by one year.

The new legislation would make it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products – effectively raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population.

The government says if passed, the law could be in place by 2027, effectively phasing out smoking in young people by as early as 2040, reducing preventable deaths and health inequalities across the UK.

Government should implement similar policies for alcohol and junk food

The plans also include a crackdown on youth vaping. While it is already illegal for children to vape, youth vaping has tripled in the last three years and it is more common for children to vape than smoke.

The government is therefore launching a consultation with the aim of reducing the appeal and availability of vapes to children. This could include:

  • Restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that flavours are no longer targeted at children
  • Regulating point of sale displays in retail outlets so that vapes are kept out of sight
  • Regulating vape packaging and product presentation
  • Restricting the sale of disposable vapes which are linked to the rise in vaping in children.

Health charities and leaders have welcomed the plans, and Adam Briggs, Senior Policy Fellow at The Health Foundation, says the legislation could have “lifelong health benefits for young people, their friends, and families.”

He said the policy would reduce pressure on public health services, the NHS and social care, as currently smoking causes around 70,000 deaths and 500,000 hospital admissions annually.

Briggs says the government should now “learn from tobacco policy” and take “bolder steps” to prevent poor health from other leading risk factors such as alcohol and junk food.

Insufficient research into the long-term health impacts of vaping

The Royal College of GPs have similarly praised the initiative aimed at creating the “first-ever generation of non-smokers.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, says the College now wants to see tougher regulations on e-cigarettes and vapes come into force.

“While vaping has been seen as a way of encouraging existing smokers to give up, we are increasingly concerned about the impact and influence this is having on impressionable young people and children.

“The UK does provide strong regulation on the sale of e-cigarettes, but many vapes are being marketed in a way that is very appealing to children with bright colours, sweet flavours and quirky designs resembling highlighter pens.

“In a short space of time, we’ve seen a significant uptake in the number of young people, who may well have never smoked tobacco – using products for which there has been insufficient research into the long-term health impacts. We are also very concerned about vapes bought online or from other unreputable sources containing varying quantities of nicotine and other harmful chemicals.”

Professor Hawthorne says the College understand “how hard” it can be for patients to give up smoking, and now vaping, but she hopes these new proposals will be the “next big step towards a smoke-free society.”

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