Butt out: U.K. proposes banning cigarettes for young people – National

Britain’s government on Wednesday proposed banning younger generations from ever buying cigarettes, a move that would give the country some of the world’s toughest smoking rules and hurt the sales of major tobacco firms.

If passed into law, the smoking age would rise by one year every year, potentially phasing out smoking among young people almost completely as soon as 2040, a briefing paper said.

“A 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Conservative Party conference, where he announced the plan.

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Smoking costs Britain’s health services 17 billion pounds (C$28.4 billion) a year, he said, adding the government also needs to act on youth vaping.

It would consult on restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes and look at regulating vape packaging and presentation, according to the briefing paper.

Campaign group Action on Smoking and Health welcomed Sunak’s plans, adding they could hasten the day when smoking becomes obsolete.

The tobacco industry criticized the proposals. The Tobacco Manufacturers Association said they were a “disproportionate attack” on adults’ rights and would fuel black market trade.

“The prohibition of legal products always has dangerous side effects and opens the door to criminal gangs to sell illegal products,” it said.

Imperial Brands, which makes Winston cigarettes and Golden Virginia rolling tobacco, also warned the ban could have “unintended consequences.” Lucky Strike and Dunhill maker British American Tobacco (BAT) said the proposals would be difficult to enforce.

Gradual impact

The smoking policy would need to pass a free vote in Britain’s parliament. This means lawmakers can vote however they like rather than in line with party policies.

If passed, Britain would become the first country in Europe to join New Zealand, which announced a similar plan last year, in banning smoking for future generations.

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Click to play video: 'New Zealand plans lifetime cigarette ban for youth in one of world’s toughest crackdowns on smoking'

New Zealand plans lifetime cigarette ban for youth in one of world’s toughest crackdowns on smoking

Academics said increases to the smoking age have successfully reduced smoking rates among young people around the world.

The change could hurt companies who generate a relatively large portion of their earnings from British tobacco sales, analysts said, such as Japan Tobacco, maker of Camel and Benson & Hedges, and Imperial Brands.

While short-term effects were likely minimal, over time the ban’s impact “could gradually become material,” said Owen Bennett, analyst at Jefferies, adding people aged 18-25 make up around 10 per cent of Britain’s current adult smokers.

Shares in Imperial Brands fell 3.2 per cent to their lowest since March 2022, while shares in BAT, which has a lower exposure to the British cigarette market, were down 1.2 per cent.

A risk for all companies is that other nations follow suit, Bennett noted. Denmark is already considering a similar move, and a number of nations also have targets to reduce smoking to minimal levels in the relatively near future.

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