Sunak Unveils Bold Plan to Phase Out Tobacco Sales in England

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The Prime Minister of England, Rishi Sunak, has proposed a significant change in the law surrounding the purchase of tobacco and cigarettes. In a brave and innovative move, he suggests incrementally increasing the minimum age to purchase these substances annually, such that the ability to purchase them will eventually become non-existent.

Unveiling this proposal at the Conservative Party Conference, Mr Sunak highlighted the importance of addressing the primary cause of preventable illnesses in England. The hazardous effects of smoking, spanning strokes, heart disease, dementia, and even stillbirth, necessitate the need for a change. The gravity of this issue extends to its role as the root cause in one-fourth of cancer-related fatalities.

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Despite a resounding reduction in the number of smokers since the 70s, there remain over five million smokers in England and six million across the UK, collectively. In the 18-24 age category, one in nine individuals smoke, substantiating Mr Sunak’s emphasis on the need to intercept the uptake of smoking in adolescence.

The Prime Minister expressed his opinion on the gravity of this issue, “Without significant change, thousands of children will start smoking in the coming years and have their lives tragically abbreviated. The data reveals that four in five smokers began the habit before the age of 20, leading to an addiction that, despite their attempts, many fail to overcome.”

Former Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan, had previously posited a concept similar to this incremental age increase for tobacco purchasing. However, at the time, the Boris Johnson-led government deemed it a remote possibility. Alas, Mr Sunak has resolved to support the idea aligning with the government’s vision for an England boasting less than 5% of the population smoking by 2030.

When referring to the upcoming parliamentary vote on this issue, he reassured that there would be no government force influencing voting decisions. He believes that it is a matter of one’s conscience and stands by his own stance by backing this proposal.

The proposed law bears similarities to New Zealand’s where the purchase of tobacco products will forever remain prohibited for individuals born after 2008. Alongside this, Mr Sunak alluded to the government’s consideration of regulating the sale of disposable vapes and their flavourings and packaging due its rising popularity among children.

Consequently, the proposal has garnered mixed responses. While Cancer Research UK’s Michelle Mitchell labelled it a ‘critical step’ deserving much credit, Simon Clark, from smokers’ lobby group Forest, described it as a creeping prohibition. Yet, campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) remains optimistic, viewing it as a prodigious set of measures accelerating the obsolescence of smoking.