King’s Speech lays out plans for a smokefree futureACTA
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.
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.