New UK smoking ban faces key vote – how it works and how it will impact you

By Staff 11 Min Read

MPs will be given the first chance today to debate and vote on plans to raise the legal age to buy tobacco up by ‘one year, every year’ to stop youngsters taking up smoking

Rishi Sunak faces a key vote today on his plans to raise the legal age to buy tobacco up by “one year, every year” to stop youngsters taking up smoking.

If it becomes law, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill – which was included in the King’s Speech – will deliver a hammer blow to the tobacco industry. The PM sees the measure as a key part of his long-term legacy as he bids to “stamp out smoking for good”. But the Tory leader faces opposition to the Bill from within his own party. Ex-PM Liz Truss has hit out at the “unconservative” proposals she says were previously binned while she was in No10. Boris Johnson also lashed out at the ban last week as “nuts”.

What is the smoking ban and who will be impacted?

The legislation will make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1 2009 and was one of three key policies announced by the PM in his speech to the Conservative Party conference last year.

It will effectively mean anyone turning 15 from this year – or younger – would be banned from buying cigs for life if the measure is passed by MPs and peers. New powers are expected to be created in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill to give people on-the-spot fines to people who aren’t old enough.

The Bill will also give the Government new powers to clamp down on young people vaping, which include imposing restrictions on flavours and regulating the way they are packaged and sold to make them less appealing to children.

How does it compare with measures in other countries?

Measures in the Bill would mean some of the toughest anti-smoking measures in the world. New Zealand had previously passed a similar law – in a world’s first – but in February the country’s new coalition government repealed the legislation.

Countries with notable restrictions on smoking include Mexico, which has smoking bans at beaches, parks and some homes. Portugal is aiming to become smoke-free by 2040, with plans to ban the sale of tobacco products in bars and cafes.

Canada also became the first country to require health warnings to be printed on individual cigarettes. More than one quarter of the world’s population are covered by smoking bans in public spaces, according to the World Health Organisation. Of the 74 countries with smoke-free policies, Ireland was the first to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces in 2004.

What is Rishi Sunak introducing a ban?

The PM has said the move will protect future generations and prevent youngsters from taking up smoking in the first place. By 2040, the Government says, smoking rates among 14 to 30 year olds will be zero as a result. As well as raising the smoking age every year, the UK legislation includes provisions that will regulate the display, contents, flavours and packaging of vapes and nicotine products.

According to Government documents, smoking costs the UK around £17billion a year, including £10billion every year through lost productivity. This dwarfs the £10billion raised through taxes on tobacco products, its figures show.

Mr Sunak made the promise a key part of his speech to the Tory conference last year, saying: “We have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter, significantly ease those pressures, and protect our children, and we should take it.”

When will MPs vote on the plans?

MPs will today be given the first chance to debate and vote on the Bill at second reading – the first stage in the parliamentary journey of legislation. It could take many months to clear all the hurdles in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords but it must pass before the general election is called to become law.

What are the PM’s critics saying?

Conservative MPs have been granted a free vote, meaning they can vote with their personal conscience rather than follow the official party line. There are expected to be several Tory MPs who will oppose the Bill – despite it being the Government’s flagship health policy.

With the Prime Minister’s authority repeatedly being questioned in recent months, there is plenty of speculation over the size of rebellion and likely some anxiety in Number 10 over the outcome. Ex-PM Liz Truss blasted the proposals on the BBC just hours before the vote, saying her successor’s policy was “ill-advised”and “unconservative”.

She said: “I know that Therese Coffey had it on her desk when she was Health Secretary and put it in the bin. It seems to have re-emerged like a bad penny.

Boris Johnson also said last week it was “mad” the “party of Winston Churchill wants a ban on [cigars]” as he sided with Ms Truss in opposing the anti-smoking policy.

…. and health experts?

But England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty rejected “pro-choice” arguments from MPs opposed to the PM’s plans to ban young people from ever smoking.

He said cigarettes were a product “designed to take your choice away” and resistance to the plan was “surprising”. He added: “The aim of this legislation … is to ensure that no children 15 or below actually become addicted to smoking, or at least cannot be legally sold cigarettes. And we do expect that, over time, to lead to, essentially, smoking dying out almost completely, which would be an enormous public health achievement.”

It is estimated that 6.4million people – around 12.7% of adults – smoke. Experts believe half a million people will die by 2030 if no action is taken to tackle this.

Is Labour supporting the smoking ban and will it pass?

Keir Starmer’s Labour has said it supports the measures to create a smokefree generation – meaning the Bill is all but certain to pass today.

But it would be politically embarrassing for the under-fire PM if he is forced to rely on votes from Labour MPs to get the legislation onto the statute book.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “Rishi Sunak might be weak but Labour will not allow the Liz Truss wing of the Conservative Party to choke off the Smoking Bill today. We will give our full support to this Bill so that the next generation are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Conservative.”

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