British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday vowed to introduce legislation to reduce tobacco use saying there was “no safe level of smoking”.
“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,” Sunak told his Conservative Party’s annual conference in a keynote address.
According to a statement from Sunak’s Downing Street office, his proposal would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, essentially raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applied to the entire population.
“This has the potential to phase out smoking in young people almost completely as early as 2040,” it added, calling the move “historic”.
The statement said the government also planned to bring in measures to restrict young people vaping.
This could include restricting disposable vapes and regulating flavours and packaging to reduce their appeal to children, Downing Street added.
Health experts welcomed the announcement.
Nick Hopkinson, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London, called it “an important step to protect children and young people from getting hooked on smoking.
“Government needs to move swiftly and get this measure in place as soon as possible,” he urged.
The measures would need to be approved by MPs in parliament, with Sunak stating that they would not be pressed on how to vote.
Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK, said the prime minister “will deserve great credit for putting the health of UK citizens ahead of the interests of the tobacco lobby.”
“We urge all MPs to support the legislation so the UK government can swiftly raise the age of sale,” she added.