Smokefree generation one step closer as Bill introduced

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill will deliver on the Prime Minister's commitment to create a smokefree generation, saving thousands of lives and billions for the NHS

  • Bill will deliver on Prime Minister’s commitment to create a smokefree generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for the NHS.
  • New powers to restrict vape flavours, packaging and change how vapes are displayed in shops to protect children.
  • ‘On the spot’ fines to be introduced to clamp down on underage sales of tobacco and vaping products

A new Bill to protect future generations across the UK from the harmful impacts of smoking and build a better future for our children will be introduced to Parliament today (Wednesday 20 March). 

Smoking is the UK’s single biggest preventable killer and costs the NHS and the economy an estimated £17 billion a year. It is highly addictive, with 4 in 5 smokers starting before the age of 20 and remaining addicted for the rest of their lives. This puts huge pressure on the NHS, with someone admitted to hospital with a smoking relating condition almost every minute in England.

Under the Tobacco and Vapes Bill introduced today, children turning 15 this year or younger will never legally be able to be sold tobacco. This will ensure that future generations are protected from the harmful impacts of smoking and save thousands of lives as well as billions of pounds for the NHS.

Importantly, creating a smokefree generation will help level-up the UK because smoking is one of the most significant and preventable drivers of disparities in health outcomes.

Smoking itself will not be criminalised, and our phased approach means anyone who can legally buy tobacco now will not be prevented from doing so in future.

In response to a huge rise in the number of children using vapes, the Bill will also introduce new powers restrict vape flavours and packaging that is intentionally marketed at children. The powers will also allow government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them, like sweets.

The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine contained within them can be highly addictive, with withdrawal sometimes causing anxiety, trouble concentrating and headaches. While vaping can play a role in helping adult smokers to quit, children should never vape. 

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said:

"If we want to build a better future for our children we need to tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill-health, disability and death: smoking.

"That is why, alongside new measures to curb the alarming rise in youth vaping, we are delivering on our commitment to create a smokefree generation and stop our kids from getting hooked on harmful cigarettes and other nicotine products.

"This important change will save thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS, freeing up new resource than can be spent to improve outcomes for patients right across the UK."

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said: 

"Smoking kills. It takes around 80,000 lives in the UK every year and causes one in four cancer-related deaths. It’s therefore only right we take robust action to protect future generations from these harmful products.

"Today is a significant milestone, representing the single biggest preventable health policy in a generation with a first-of-its-kind Bill aimed at preventing our children and young people from falling prey to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

"This landmark legislation will ensure generations to come will have healthier lives, while freeing up NHS capacity by removing the huge pressure caused by smoking-related illness."

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England said:

"Smoking causes harm across the life course. This includes stillbirth, asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 15 different types of cancer, stroke and dementia.

"If passed this will be a major public health measure which reduce illness, disability, and premature deaths for children today and future generations."

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said,

"The groundbreaking legislation put before parliament today sets a course to the extinction of smoking in the UK. Every day 350 young adults aged between 18 and 25 start smoking regularly, risking a lifetime of addiction, disease, disability and premature death. Smoking is the silent killer that hides in plain sight, killing more people than COVID at the height of the pandemic. Ending this scourge on society cannot come soon enough."

Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s Executive Director of Policy, said:

"This legislation positions the UK as a world leader in tackling smoking. Raising the age of sale of tobacco products has strong public backing and is the boldest prevention measure in years.

"Nothing would have a bigger impact on reducing the number of preventable deaths in the UK than ending smoking. We urge all MPs to vote in favour of this bill, and for it to be passed as quickly as possible."

Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

"The introduction of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill is a significant day for children’s health. As paediatricians, reducing harm to children and young people lies at the core of our work. Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and disease in the UK.

"Stopping children and young people from starting to smoke will decrease their chance of developing preventable disease later in life and reducing the impact of passive smoking on pregnant women and children will be a key outcome too. I strongly urge MPs to use the important responsibility they have and support this Bill to protect children’s and our nation’s health."

Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said:

"We look forward to supporting retailers in implementing the new age of sale legislation on smoking and future regulations around vapes. It is important that the legislation operates in the same way across the UK as this will help ensure clarity and consistency for customers. Retailers will look to ensure they comply with the new regulations in a timely manner."

Under the Bill, enforcement officers’ powers will also be strengthened with ‘on the spot fines’ of £100 to uphold the new laws and clamp down on underage sales of tobacco and vaping products. This builds on a maximum £2,500 fine that local authorities can already impose. It will also no longer be legal to give free samples of vapes to under 18s.

Additionally, the government has committed to ban the sale and supply of disposable vapes from April 2025 under separate environmental legislation. Disposable vapes have been a key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping, with the proportion of 11 to 17 year old vapers using disposables increasing almost ninefold in the last 2 years.    

The government has already announced funding to support smokers to quit with £70 million for local ‘stop smoking’ services. The ‘swap to stop’ scheme, for example, provides free access to a vape kits alongside behavioural support to help adult smokers quit the habit and improve health outcomes.

From: Department of Health and Social Care, The Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP, and The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP