MPs to vote on landmark bill to create smokefree generation

MPs to vote on legislation to create first smokefree generation, protecting young people turning 15 this year or younger from harms of smoking

MPs will vote today (16 April 2024) on world-leading legislation to protect future generations across the UK from the harmful effects of smoking.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill would make it an offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009 - children aged 15 or younger today. Smoking itself would not be criminalised and anyone who can legally buy tobacco today will never be prevented from doing so in the future by the legislation. If passed, the bill will progress to the next stage, bringing the UK closer to creating the first smokefree generation. 

Responsible for around 80,000 deaths annually, smoking is the UK’s single biggest preventable killer and costs the NHS and economy an estimated £17 billion a year - far more than the £10 billion annual revenue from tobacco taxation.

It is also highly addictive - 4 in 5 smokers start before the age of 20 and remain addicted for the rest of their lives despite most smokers having tried to quit.

The legislation will cover all tobacco products, recognising that tobacco kills two-thirds of long-term users. In England alone, almost every minute someone with a smoking-related condition is admitted to hospital.

The bill will help deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment of creating a smokefree generation, which could prevent over 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other deadly diseases by the turn of the century.

Alongside action to prevent creating future smokers, the government has already announced significant additional funding for stop smoking services over the next 5 years, effectively doubling the money available for local initiatives that can help existing smokers to quit. The government is also rolling out an innovative financial incentives scheme to help all pregnant smokers to quit.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said:

"Too many people know someone whose life has been tragically cut short or irreversibly changed because of smoking, which despite significant progress remains the UK’s biggest preventable killer.

"The truth is that there is no safe level of tobacco consumption. It is uniquely harmful and that is why we are taking this important action today to protect the next generation.

"This bill will save thousands of lives, ease the strain on our NHS and improve the UK’s productivity."

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill would also give the government new powers to tackle youth vaping by restricting flavours and regulating the way that vapes are sold and packaged to make them less appealing to children.

While vaping can play a useful role in helping adult smokers to quit, non-smokers and children should never vape. The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine contained within them can be highly addictive.

To ensure compliance with the new rules, trading standards officers will be given new powers to issue on-the-spot fines (fixed penalty notices) to retailers unlawfully selling tobacco or vapes to children. All the money raised would be used to fund further enforcement action.

The bill follows the government’s previously stated commitment to ban the sale and supply of disposable vapes under existing environmental legislation, which have been a key factor behind the rise in youth vaping. The ban is planned to take effect from April 2025.

Public Health Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said: 

"Smoking is the number one preventable cause of disability, ill health and death in this country. Once it becomes a habit, its addictive nature means that it is extremely difficult to stop.

"Because the case against these harmful products is so strong, it’s not surprising that the majority of the British public - including those who smoke and those who sell tobacco - support plans to protect the next generation from the misery of smoking.

"Our plan will save lives, ease the strain on our NHS and ensure a brighter future for our children."

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said:

"Smoking kills and causes harm at all stages of life from stillbirths, asthma in children, stroke, cancer to heart attacks and dementia.

"This bill, if passed, will have a substantial impact - preventing disease, disability and premature deaths long into the future."

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: 

"The Tobacco and Vapes Bill being voted on today is radical but, hard as it is now to believe, so were the smokefree laws when they were put before Parliament. Parliamentarians can be reassured that the public they represent back the bill. 

"New research just published by ASH shows that the majority of tobacco retailers and the public, including smokers, support the legislation and the smokefree generation ambition it is designed to deliver. This historic legislation will consign smoking to the ‘ash heap of history'. "

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: 

"Smoking continues to devastate the nation’s health, taking 15,000 UK lives every single year due to cardiovascular disease alone. 

"Raising the age of sale for tobacco each year will be a game changer, meaning that future generations are protected from serious disease and death caused by smoking. 

"Decisive action is needed to end this ongoing public health tragedy - we urge every MP to vote for this landmark legislation at the bill’s second reading."

Professor Steve Turner, Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health President, said: 

"Without a doubt the introduction of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill will save lives. 

"By stopping children and young people from becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco we decrease their chances of developing preventable diseases later in life, and will protect children from the harms of nicotine addiction. 

"As paediatricians, we strongly urge MPs to use the important responsibility they have and support this bill to protect children’s and our nation’s current and future health."

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

"Today’s vote is a critical step towards the UK becoming a world leader in tobacco control. By voting in favour of the age of sale legislation, MPs will be putting us on the right side of history, and helping to create the first ever smokefree generation.

"Smoking is still the leading cause of cancer in the UK. Now is the time to take action, end cancers caused by smoking and save lives."

From: Department of Health and Social Care, The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, and The Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP