U.K. Votes To Make Smoking Illegal for an Entire Generation

By: Amanda Kusumowidagdo | Published: Apr 25, 2024

The U.K. government seems to be waging a war on tobacco and smoking. The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak proposes a bill to make smoking illegal for an entire generation.

The bill aims to create a smoke-free generation as a major public health intervention. But is there support for the bill?

The Planned Smoking Ban

The ban will apply to youngsters born in 2009 and onwards. Sunak’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill will ban anyone turning 15 from this year from buying cigarettes. It also wants to make vapes less appealing to children.

A black standee featuring a sign for No Smoking and No Vaping

Source: Samuel Ramos/Unsplash

But the bill is encountering some opposition. A number of Tory members of parliament told the B.B.C. they wouldn’t be backing the bill. 

More Opposition Met

The B.B.C. also reported that Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch is not keen on voting for the bill.

Gold coins and block letters spelling Taxes next to a notebook and a calculator on a green surface

Source: Nataliya Vaitkevich/Pexels

A Tory MP, Sir Simon Clarke, who served in Liz Truss and Boris Johnson’s cabinets, also did not support the move. Talking to B.B.C. Radio 4’s Today program, he’d rather the government focus its efforts on education and the tax system to inspire young people to stop smoking.

A Ban Makes Smoking Cooler

Clarke said, “[An outright ban] risks making smoking cooler, it certainly risks creating a black market, and also risks creating an unmanageable problem from the authorities.”

A woman wearing a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans holding a blue vape pen

Source: Romain B/Unsplash

By “authorities,” he means the trading standards officers who would get new powers to issue £100 fines directly to shops selling tobacco or vapes to children. The money produced from the fines would go towards further enforcement.

A Variety of Restrictions

The bill also plans on restricting flavors, packaging, and the sale of vapes so they would appear less appealing to children.

Red box mod vape beside e-juice bottles

Source: Antonin FELS/Unsplash

Instead of making the act of smoking illegal, what the bill is doing so far is appearing to make the sale of tobacco products illegal.

Tory Objection

Ironically enough, Sunak’s biggest opposition comes from his own party: the Tories. Meanwhile, the Labour Party is backing the bill.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak standing in front of the grey building of 10 Downing Street

Source: Prime Minister’s Office/Wikimedia Commons

Some Tory MPs believe the plan is unworkable. Hence, their objection to the bill. Other Tories are calling it “un-Conservative.” Truss is included in the Conservative Party members who called the bill “unconservative.”


Protect the Children and Their Choices

Truss is of the opinion that while “we should absolutely protect children from damage and danger while they are developing decision-making capabilities,” they should be allowed the freedom to choose their own path.

Former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss standing in front of a dark wall and the British flag

Source: Prime Minister’s Office/Wikimedia Commons

Talking to the B.B.C. political editor Chris Mason, she continued, “We’re a free country. We shouldn’t be telling people not to smoke and I worry about where it will lead.”


Support for the Bill

But while some of Sunak’s own party’s members don’t support this bill, the Liberal Democrats party leader Sir Ed Davey emphasized the need for an intervention.

A sick man lying on a hospital bed

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

He said to B.B.C. Breakfast, “I’ve seen the health impacts of smoking tobacco, there’s no good outcome, it’s always bad, it’s the leading cause of preventable death in our country.”


Scotland Wants to Go Tobacco-Free

This bill is in line with the wishes of the Scottish government: to create a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034. Scotland’s Public Health Minister Jenni Minto confirmed this.

A group of people wearing red and yellow tartan plaid kilts carrying drums

Source: Melody Ayres-Griffiths/Unsplash

The legislation, if passed, will give Scotland appropriate powers to execute the bill. But it still needs the consent of the Scottish Parliament via a vote at a later date in Holyrood.


Conservative Voters Want It

Director of a research organization, More in Common UK, Luke Tryl said that the public supports the bill extensively. Public support also includes Conservative voters from the 2019 U.K. elections.

People in suits sit in rows in an auditorium attending the UK’s House of Commons debate

Source: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Stephen Pike/Wikimedia Commons

“People like the government take tough measures,” he said, “particularly on public health and things that affect young people.”


Adults Backing the Ban

Despite Boris Johnson calling the plan mad and evoking the image of cigar-smoking Winston Churchill, a survey by YouGov in February revealed some positive adult opinions on the bill.

A No Smoking sign posted on a blue surface with the text Smoke-Free Environment above it

Source: Cristian Guerrero/Unsplash

The survey found 71% of adults supported the goal of making Britain a smoke-free country. Only 12% were opposed.


A Game Changer

The medical community and social charities are urging MPs to support the bill. Dr. Charmaine Griffiths of the British Heart Foundation is already calling the law a “game changer.” She emphasized, “Decisive action is needed to end this ongoing public health tragedy.”

Neon sign saying And Breathe placed among green leaves

Source: Max van den Oetelaar/Unsplash

With the bill already passing the first hurdle (the House voted in favor of the plan; 383 voted for and 67 voted against), it seems that the bill may just come to pass. And then, the U.K. will truly be free of tobacco.