King’s Speech lays out plans for a smokefree future

King’s Speech lays out plans for a smokefree future

King Charles III today confirmed that the UK Government will introduce legislation to raise the age of sale for tobacco, ensuring no one currently aged 14 or under can ever be legally sold cigarettes or other tobacco products.

The announcement, made in the King’s Speech during the state opening of Parliament, follows on from last month’s Conservative party conference, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak committed to creating the first smokefree generation.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill introduced by the King, which also includes measures to curb youth vaping, ties in with government plans to provide extra funding for local stop smoking services and invest in mass-media campaigns encouraging people to quit.

At Cancer Research UK, we’ve been tirelessly campaigning for this sort of action on smoking for a decade – informing and influencing the government to keep cancer at the top of their agenda and publishing research in support of our policy asks. Last year, we brought it all together in our #SmokefreeUK campaign, with campaigners calling for their MPs to become ‘Smokefree MPs’. We’re happy to see the UK Government has been paying attention. Now we want to see the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland follow its lead.

Smoking rates fall when leaders take decisive action: that’s why we support the UK Government’s commitment to changing the age of sale of tobacco announced in the King’s Speech today. The Government should move to bring this legislation before Parliament in early 2024, and we call on MPs from all parties to support it.

– Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive

What was announced in the King’s Speech and why does it matter for preventing cancers? 

The proposed legislation would raise the age of sale for tobacco in England by one year every year, permanently banning the sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products to people born on or after 1 January 2009. As it focuses on sale, it will not criminalise the act of buying tobacco and won’t prevent anyone currently older than 14 from being sold tobacco in future.  

This measure was first suggested last year in an independent review led by Dr Javed Khan, which we and our partners in the Smokefree Action Coalition informed and endorsed. A similar law has recently been passed in New Zealand. 

There are still 6.4 million adults who smoke in the UK, and smoking remains the country’s biggest cause of cancer. Research shows the crucial role government action plays in bringing those numbers down. Whereas around a third (34%) of 16 to 24-year-olds in Great Britain smoked in the 1990s, and more than 4 in 10 (43%) of them did in the 1970s, measures like raising taxes on tobacco and banning smoking in public places have lowered that to 13% today. Even so, there are still around 885,000 16 to 24-year-olds across Great Britain who smoke. 

Most people who smoke today want to stop and regret ever starting, but smoking is an addiction, and support is often vital for helping people quit. That’s why we welcome the extra investment into media campaigns encouraging people to stop smoking and local services for helping them do so.

Steadily raising the age of sale builds on this by stopping people from ever taking up smoking in the first place. Almost 9 in 10 people who smoke report they took up smoking before the age of 21, so focusing on stopping cigarettes being sold to younger people will play a big role in keeping them from developing a dangerous addiction that they will then struggle – and possibly need support – to overcome

And we know the public are behind this measure, with a recent survey finding that 73% of adults supported raising the age of sale for tobacco products.

I’ve never met anyone who wants their child to take up smoking. Cancer Research UK estimates that there are around 885,000 16 to 24-year-olds smoking in Great Britain today. The recently announced funding can help those smoking to quit, but this proposed legislation could stop the next generation ever becoming addicted to tobacco.

– Michelle Mitchell

What are the next steps?

The UK Government, on behalf of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has already launched a public consultation on the proposed smoking and vaping measures to give the public an opportunity to share their views. Cancer Research UK will be responding to this consultation, and we encourage our supporters to do so too. 

Having this Bill included in the King’s Speech means that it will be brought to Parliament for both MPs and Lords to consider for approval.  

The Conservative party has indicated this will be a “free vote” for its members (meaning that Conservative MPs won’t be instructed on how to vote), but Labour has already said it will “whip” its MPs to vote in favour of the legislation. 

In its notes on the Bill, the UK Government has said it wishes to implement these measures “as soon as possible after the consultation closes in early December”. Since there’s not much time until Parliament goes on recess for Christmas, this will likely be finalised in 2024. 

This Bill will extend to England and Wales, though for the moment it only applies to England. However, the UK Government has also said that it is working closely with the other devolved nations and would support them if they also decide to also implement these measures.  

Campaigning in a marathon and not a sprint, and it’s only with the support from our partners and supporters that we got to this point. Our next job is to make sure this measure is implemented, and with your support, we can make sure all political parties see why this is a crucial step towards a smokefree generation.  

If you’d like to get involved and make sure that this legislation is introduced quickly and becomes law, join our #SmokefreeUK campaign today.

Source: Cancer Research