U.K. lawmakers back anti-smoking bill, moving step closer to a future ban on all tobacco sales

London — U.K. lawmakers have voted decisively in favor of legislation aimed at eventually banning smoking in Britain. The controversial Tobacco and Vapes Bill is now one step closer to becoming law after clearing its first hurdle in parliament.

The bill would make it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after January 1, 2009, with the legal age for the purchase of tobacco products increasing by one year every year until it eventually covers the entire population.

Backers of the legislation, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has made it a key policy of his government, say the aim is to create the U.K.’s “first smoke-free generation.”

If enacted, it would be one of the toughest national anti-smoking measures in the world.

Under current law, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy tobacco products in the U.K., but under the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, children who are turning 15 this year, or anyone younger, would never be able to legally buy tobacco in Britain.

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The proposed legislation would not criminalize smoking, but rather the sale of tobacco depending on a customer’s age, and it would ensure that anyone who’s currently allowed to buy tobacco products will never be prevented from doing so.

But despite praise from some health experts and the broad backing of parliament, the bill has generated controversy — even sparked rebellion — within Sunak’s own Conservative Party.
The legislation was debated Tuesday in the House of Commons, where some more libertarian-minded Members of Parliament argued that it would limit personal freedoms and branded it “unconservative.”

Liz Truss, who served very briefly as U.K. prime minister in 2022, called the proposal a “virtue-signaling piece of legislation about protecting adults from themselves in the future.”
Another former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said it was “mad” that the party of Winston Churchill, Britain’s famously cigar-loving World War II leader, was considering “banning cigars.”

Conservative Member of Parliament Simon Clarke told CBS News partner network BBC News that the ban would be counterproductive.

“I think it actually risks making smoking cooler,” he said. “It certainly risks creating a black market, and it also risks creating an unmanageable challenge for the authorities.”

While the number of people who smoke in Britain has been falling for years, the Action on Smoking and Health campaign group says it remains the primary cause of preventable illness and premature death in England, accounting for approximately 74,600 deaths every year.

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The proposed bill would also attempt to reduce the number of young people taking up vaping. It would ban the sale of the inexpensive, disposable vapes often seen in the hands of minors, and restrict the variety of vape flavors available in a bid to reduce uptake by children.

A similar smoking ban was proposed by New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, but it was scrapped earlier this year by the country’s new coalition government.

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