Rishi Sunak Unveils Plan to Eradicate Youth Smoking in England

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Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, graced the stage of the annual Conservative Party conference with a game-changing proposition on Wednesday. He unveiled a plan focused on gradually eliminating the habit of smoking among young people by incrementally increasing the legal age for buying cigarettes in England each year. This strategy targets to deter teenagers from smoking, declaring that a 14-year-old today might never experience the transaction of purchasing a cigarette legally.

Currently, across the United Kingdom, the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18 is unlawful, a milestone achieved in 2007 when the required age was raised from 16 to 18. This resulted in a significant 30% decrease in smoking prevalence among 16 and 17-year-olds, as stated by Sunak’s office.

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The Prime Minister emphasised how the majority of smokers pick up the unhealthy habit during their youth, with four out of five initiating the practice before they hit their twenties. Moving forward, the proposal intends to break this cycle and curtail the biggest cause of preventable death and disease in the country.

Hence, the proposed legislation plans to ensure the current 14-year-olds and their younger counterparts never experience the purchase of cigarettes legally. This dramatic change, however, would require Parliamentary approval and would only be applicable in England, not extending to Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

It is important to note, however, that smoking will not become a criminal offence. The gradual amendments would ensure that individuals who can legally buy cigarettes today won’t lose this prerogative. The U.K. has seen its smoking population shrink by two-thirds since the 1970s, though official records report around 6.4 million or approximately 13% of its population still partake in the habit.

Lion Shahab, co-director of the tobacco and alcohol research group at University College London, applauded the ‘smoke-free generation’ legislation proposal, remarking on the potential for it to become a defining legacy for the government. He rightly observed that tobacco is the only commodity that can legally result in the death of over half its consumers, when used as intended.

Moreover, the government also intends for restrictions on the availability of vapes or e-cigarettes to children. Despite the illegality of selling these electronic substitutes to anyone below 18 years of age, the practice of youth vaping has tripled in the past three years, overtaking the numbers on juvenile smoking. Effective solutions like limiting flavoured vapes, modifying packaging, and regulating store displays are being considered to render these products less captivating for the young eyes.

Wednesday’s announcement, intended to overshadow the toxic legacy of tobacco, impacted the market, causing shares in tobacco firms like Dunhill and Lucky Strike owner British American Tobacco, to fall by 1 per cent and Imperial Brands by 2.4 percent.