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The plan for a tobacco-free United Kingdom under debate in Parliament

The United Kingdom could gradually become a tobacco-free country. MPs are debating a bill on Tuesday according to which young people under the age of 15 today will never be legally sold cigarettes.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, according to the government. It is responsible for around 80,000 deaths per year. Furthermore, it costs the public health service, the NHS, and the economy around 20 billion euros per year.

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has launched in the fall, to everyone's surprise, a very ambitious policy to combat smoking, even if it divides its camp.

“Too many people know someone whose life has been tragically cut short or irreversibly changed by smoking,” Health Minister Victoria Atkins said Tuesday.

“We need to try to stop teenagers from starting to smoke,” Rishi Sunak said in October, when he first spoke about the project at the Conservative Party conference. Downing Street then estimated that the project could make it possible to “almost completely eliminate smoking among young people by 2040”.

Four out of five smokers started before the age of 20 and remain addicted for the rest of their lives, even though most of them have tried to stop, according to government figures.

“A large majority of smokers wish they had never started,” Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical adviser to the British government, told the BBC. But “once they become addicted, they no longer have a choice.”

He criticized the tobacco industry which “makes money by addicting people who generally live in the most disadvantaged regions of the country.”

Before the United Kingdom, New Zealand had passed a similar text in Parliament in 2022, banning the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after 2008. But at the end of 2023, the new conservative government announced the abandonment of these pioneering measures.

– “Anti-Tory” –

Rishi Sunak faces strong opposition within the Tories, including several elected officials announced that they would vote against a text that they consider contrary to individual freedoms.

The plan for a tobacco-free United Kingdom under debate in Parliament

A man lights a cigarette in a park in Birmingham, England, March 7, 2024 © AFP – Oli SCARFF

Liz Truss, short-lived head of government before Rishi Sunak, described him as “anti-conservative”. “We are a free country. We should not be the ones telling people not to smoke.”

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also criticized the text, saying it was “just crazy” for Winston Churchill's party to want to ban “cigars ” of which the former conservative leader was a fan.

Conservative MP Simon Clarke believes that the project, which he described as “counterproductive”, risks making cigarettes “cooler” and “creating a black market”.

Rishi Sunak will however be able to count on the votes of the Labor Party to get his text voted on. But the opposition of many elected representatives of his majority risks further weakening his authority and reinforcing divisions within his party, already well ahead of Labor in the polls in the run-up to the legislative elections expected this year.

Many doctors called on MPs to vote in favor of this project.

For Professor Steve Turner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, this bill “will undoubtedly save lives”.

This text also plans to combat vaping among young people by placing restrictions on flavors and regulating the way vaping products are sold and packaged in order to make them less attractive .

In January, Rishi Sunak also announced a ban on disposable electronic cigarettes.

To taste pineapple, strawberry or other appetizing fruits and sold in small colorful tubes, “puffs” are becoming increasingly popular among teenagers. According to official figures, among young people aged 11 to 17 who vape in the United Kingdom, the proportion of those using disposable e-cigarettes has increased nine-fold in two years.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116