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King’s Speech lays out plans for a smokefree future

Alizée Froguel
by Alizee Froguel | News

7 November 2023

2 comments 2 comments

Smokefree UK Supporters gathered on College Green before the petition hand-in
Smokefree UK supporters gathered on College Green before handing our Smokefree UK petition to 10 Downing Street in September 2023


King Charles III today confirmed that the UK Government will introduce legislation to raise the age of sale for tobacco, ensuring no one currently aged 14 or under can ever be legally sold cigarettes or other tobacco products.

The announcement, made in the King’s Speech during the state opening of Parliament, follows on from last month’s Conservative party conference, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak committed to creating the first smokefree generation.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill introduced by the King, which also includes measures to curb youth vaping, ties in with government plans to provide extra funding for local stop smoking services and invest in mass-media campaigns encouraging people to quit.

At Cancer Research UK, we’ve been tirelessly campaigning for this sort of action on smoking for a decade – informing and influencing the government to keep cancer at the top of their agenda and publishing research in support of our policy asks. Last year, we brought it all together in our #SmokefreeUK campaign, with campaigners calling for their MPs to become ‘Smokefree MPs’. We’re happy to see the UK Government has been paying attention. Now we want to see the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland follow its lead.

Smoking rates fall when leaders take decisive action: that’s why we support the UK Government’s commitment to changing the age of sale of tobacco announced in the King’s Speech today. The Government should move to bring this legislation before Parliament in early 2024, and we call on MPs from all parties to support it.

- Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK's chief executive

What was announced in the King’s Speech and why does it matter for preventing cancers? 

The proposed legislation would raise the age of sale for tobacco in England by one year every year, permanently banning the sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products to people born on or after 1 January 2009. As it focuses on sale, it will not criminalise the act of buying tobacco and won’t prevent anyone currently older than 14 from being sold tobacco in future.  

This measure was first suggested last year in an independent review led by Dr Javed Khan, which we and our partners in the Smokefree Action Coalition informed and endorsed. A similar law has recently been passed in New Zealand. 

There are still 6.4 million adults who smoke in the UK, and smoking remains the country’s biggest cause of cancer. Research shows the crucial role government action plays in bringing those numbers down. Whereas around a third (34%) of 16 to 24-year-olds in Great Britain smoked in the 1990s, and more than 4 in 10 (43%) of them did in the 1970s, measures like raising taxes on tobacco and banning smoking in public places have lowered that to 13% today. Even so, there are still around 885,000 16 to 24-year-olds across Great Britain who smoke. 

Most people who smoke today want to stop and regret ever starting, but smoking is an addiction, and support is often vital for helping people quit. That’s why we welcome the extra investment into media campaigns encouraging people to stop smoking and local services for helping them do so.

Steadily raising the age of sale builds on this by stopping people from ever taking up smoking in the first place. Almost 9 in 10 people who smoke report they took up smoking before the age of 21, so focusing on stopping cigarettes being sold to younger people will play a big role in keeping them from developing a dangerous addiction that they will then struggle – and possibly need support – to overcome

And we know the public are behind this measure, with a recent survey finding that 73% of adults supported raising the age of sale for tobacco products.

I’ve never met anyone who wants their child to take up smoking. Cancer Research UK estimates that there are around 885,000 16 to 24-year-olds smoking in Great Britain today. The recently announced funding can help those smoking to quit, but this proposed legislation could stop the next generation ever becoming addicted to tobacco.

- Michelle Mitchell

What are the next steps?

The UK Government, on behalf of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has already launched a public consultation on the proposed smoking and vaping measures to give the public an opportunity to share their views. Cancer Research UK will be responding to this consultation, and we encourage our supporters to do so too. 

Having this Bill included in the King’s Speech means that it will be brought to Parliament for both MPs and Lords to consider for approval.  

The Conservative party has indicated this will be a “free vote” for its members (meaning that Conservative MPs won’t be instructed on how to vote), but Labour has already said it will “whip” its MPs to vote in favour of the legislation. 

In its notes on the Bill, the UK Government has said it wishes to implement these measures “as soon as possible after the consultation closes in early December”. Since there’s not much time until Parliament goes on recess for Christmas, this will likely be finalised in 2024. 

This Bill will extend to England and Wales, though for the moment it only applies to England. However, the UK Government has also said that it is working closely with the other devolved nations and would support them if they also decide to also implement these measures.  

Campaigning in a marathon and not a sprint, and it’s only with the support from our partners and supporters that we got to this point. Our next job is to make sure this measure is implemented, and with your support, we can make sure all political parties see why this is a crucial step towards a smokefree generation.  

If you’d like to get involved and make sure that this legislation is introduced quickly and becomes law, join our #SmokefreeUK campaign today.

Alizée Froguel is a prevention policy manager at Cancer Research UK.

    Comments

  • Richard E. Lewis
    6 February 2024

    It appals me that our king has joined our unelected prime minister in calling for an incremental smoking ban. However, it doesn’t surprise me, since as Prince of Wales, he had a history of involving himself I political affairs, even though we all know that our monarch is supposed to stay well out of politics.

    Both our king and our prime minister are unelected. Therefore, they have no right whatsoever in a so-called democracy to make decisions on the people’s behalf.

    The mere idea of banning smoking for adults — a habit which brings great pleasure to many adults even to this day — is undemocratic, autocratic, in fact, and, quite frankly, stupid. There are far more unhealthy habits than smoking cigarettes. Excessive sugar consumption springs quickly to mind, alcohol consumption, the smoking of marijuana and cannabis, and ketamine, and increasingly, cocaine. How many young people have a cocaine habit, I wonder? London is, in fact, said to be the cocaine capital of the world.

    So, cigarette-smoking is the least of our concerns.

    I would be the last person on earth to advocate smoking. However, I must admit, until nearly two years ago, I had a twenty-a-day habit, which brought me enormous pleasure. It also kept me slim and free of type-2 diabetes. Since quitting, I have gained weight quickly; and this worries me. Why? Because I know that my metabolism has slowed right down since I gave up. I am not gaining weight because I am eating more; rather, I am gaining weight because of my now slow metabolism.

    You can talk of lung cancer, and lung cancer is a terrible thing. But the fact remains that only about 5 – 10% of HEAVY smokers contract it. Indeed, I recently read of an Israeli rabbi many years over a hundred who died of old age despite being an extremely heavy smoker. Like 60 cigarettes a day!

    Please do not misconstrue my message: I neither advocate smoking nor condone it. However, I do defend the right of an adult to make his own choice without people in the Establishment interfering in their decisions. (By the way, I am not a republican. Far from it.)

    The NHS argument holds no water. Smokers contribute approximately £10.5b in taxes, whereas they cost the NHS only £3.5b.

    It should also be remembered that a person’s health is more than being about remaining cancer-free. One also wants to be free of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease and type-2 diabetes. One also wishes to remain as slim as possible. Nobody wants to be obese. Smoking has a protective effect on all these maladies.

    It is imperative that we look at the big picture; it is also imperative that we keep meddlesome people out of our decision-making process.

    If you wish to ban anything, ban meddlesome people from interfering in the democratic process. Keep people right to choose. Ban interference from the Nanny State.

  • reply
    Jacob Smith
    22 February 2024

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for reading our article.

    Tobacco is the biggest cause of cancer, and death, in the UK. 72% of lung cancer cases are linked to smoking in the UK, and an estimated 86% of lung cancer deaths in the UK are caused by tobacco smoking.

    Our analysis found that tobacco kills one person every five minutes in the UK. In fact, tobacco is the only legal consumer product that, if used as intended, will kill up to two thirds of its users. Even smoking fewer cigarettes than 1 a day increases the risk of dying early, compared to people who have never smoked.

    It’s not just about reducing risk of lung cancer – stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your overall health. Stopping smoking reduces the risk of at least 15 different types of cancer (including bowel, kidney, pancreas and head and neck cancers), and lowers your risk of heart and lung conditions (including heart attack, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). Stopping smoking can also improve your mental wellbeing, as any potential positive feelings from smoking a cigarette only last for a short time. Stopping smoking can lower depression, anxiety, and stress in the long term.

    The proposed age of sale legislation is not the same as banning smoking for adults. It would not affect anyone currently able to buy tobacco products. Instead, it would make it illegal for children born on the 1st of January 2009 or later to ever be sold tobacco products.

    This could stop young people from ever developing a dangerous addiction that they may then struggle to overcome, and reduce their risk of cancer in the future. This is a policy that is popular with the public too; in June 2023, an Opinium poll found that 73% of adults supported raising the age of sale of tobacco.

    Action on Smoking and Health estimates the gross cost of smoking to public finances (including health service and social care costs) in the UK was £20.6bn in 2022. This is more than the £10.2bn collected in tobacco duty in 2022.

    At Cancer Research UK, our aim is to beat cancer for everyone. Yet smoking is also the single biggest driver of cancer inequalities. Some people are more likely to try a cigarette than others, and often factors outside of our control can influence our choices without us realising – whether it’s your family environment, mental health, or persuasion tactics by the tobacco industry. So, while things like smoking may maintain an illusion of free, individual choice and responsibility, we are all being influenced by the world we live in.

    We continually review new research (scientific studies) on the causes of cancer, and develop our information by looking at lots of research carried out over many years in millions of people. You can read more about how we evaluate research and how to spot misinformation here. We also develop policy on a range of cancer risk factors, including overweight and obesity. You can find out more here

    I hope that helps to clarify our position.

    Jacob, Cancer Research UK

  • Philippe Froguel
    7 November 2023

    Very good news and congratulations for this success against the number one mass killer

    Very nice article too

    Comments

  • Richard E. Lewis
    6 February 2024

    It appals me that our king has joined our unelected prime minister in calling for an incremental smoking ban. However, it doesn’t surprise me, since as Prince of Wales, he had a history of involving himself I political affairs, even though we all know that our monarch is supposed to stay well out of politics.

    Both our king and our prime minister are unelected. Therefore, they have no right whatsoever in a so-called democracy to make decisions on the people’s behalf.

    The mere idea of banning smoking for adults — a habit which brings great pleasure to many adults even to this day — is undemocratic, autocratic, in fact, and, quite frankly, stupid. There are far more unhealthy habits than smoking cigarettes. Excessive sugar consumption springs quickly to mind, alcohol consumption, the smoking of marijuana and cannabis, and ketamine, and increasingly, cocaine. How many young people have a cocaine habit, I wonder? London is, in fact, said to be the cocaine capital of the world.

    So, cigarette-smoking is the least of our concerns.

    I would be the last person on earth to advocate smoking. However, I must admit, until nearly two years ago, I had a twenty-a-day habit, which brought me enormous pleasure. It also kept me slim and free of type-2 diabetes. Since quitting, I have gained weight quickly; and this worries me. Why? Because I know that my metabolism has slowed right down since I gave up. I am not gaining weight because I am eating more; rather, I am gaining weight because of my now slow metabolism.

    You can talk of lung cancer, and lung cancer is a terrible thing. But the fact remains that only about 5 – 10% of HEAVY smokers contract it. Indeed, I recently read of an Israeli rabbi many years over a hundred who died of old age despite being an extremely heavy smoker. Like 60 cigarettes a day!

    Please do not misconstrue my message: I neither advocate smoking nor condone it. However, I do defend the right of an adult to make his own choice without people in the Establishment interfering in their decisions. (By the way, I am not a republican. Far from it.)

    The NHS argument holds no water. Smokers contribute approximately £10.5b in taxes, whereas they cost the NHS only £3.5b.

    It should also be remembered that a person’s health is more than being about remaining cancer-free. One also wants to be free of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease and type-2 diabetes. One also wishes to remain as slim as possible. Nobody wants to be obese. Smoking has a protective effect on all these maladies.

    It is imperative that we look at the big picture; it is also imperative that we keep meddlesome people out of our decision-making process.

    If you wish to ban anything, ban meddlesome people from interfering in the democratic process. Keep people right to choose. Ban interference from the Nanny State.

  • reply
    Jacob Smith
    22 February 2024

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for reading our article.

    Tobacco is the biggest cause of cancer, and death, in the UK. 72% of lung cancer cases are linked to smoking in the UK, and an estimated 86% of lung cancer deaths in the UK are caused by tobacco smoking.

    Our analysis found that tobacco kills one person every five minutes in the UK. In fact, tobacco is the only legal consumer product that, if used as intended, will kill up to two thirds of its users. Even smoking fewer cigarettes than 1 a day increases the risk of dying early, compared to people who have never smoked.

    It’s not just about reducing risk of lung cancer – stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your overall health. Stopping smoking reduces the risk of at least 15 different types of cancer (including bowel, kidney, pancreas and head and neck cancers), and lowers your risk of heart and lung conditions (including heart attack, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). Stopping smoking can also improve your mental wellbeing, as any potential positive feelings from smoking a cigarette only last for a short time. Stopping smoking can lower depression, anxiety, and stress in the long term.

    The proposed age of sale legislation is not the same as banning smoking for adults. It would not affect anyone currently able to buy tobacco products. Instead, it would make it illegal for children born on the 1st of January 2009 or later to ever be sold tobacco products.

    This could stop young people from ever developing a dangerous addiction that they may then struggle to overcome, and reduce their risk of cancer in the future. This is a policy that is popular with the public too; in June 2023, an Opinium poll found that 73% of adults supported raising the age of sale of tobacco.

    Action on Smoking and Health estimates the gross cost of smoking to public finances (including health service and social care costs) in the UK was £20.6bn in 2022. This is more than the £10.2bn collected in tobacco duty in 2022.

    At Cancer Research UK, our aim is to beat cancer for everyone. Yet smoking is also the single biggest driver of cancer inequalities. Some people are more likely to try a cigarette than others, and often factors outside of our control can influence our choices without us realising – whether it’s your family environment, mental health, or persuasion tactics by the tobacco industry. So, while things like smoking may maintain an illusion of free, individual choice and responsibility, we are all being influenced by the world we live in.

    We continually review new research (scientific studies) on the causes of cancer, and develop our information by looking at lots of research carried out over many years in millions of people. You can read more about how we evaluate research and how to spot misinformation here. We also develop policy on a range of cancer risk factors, including overweight and obesity. You can find out more here

    I hope that helps to clarify our position.

    Jacob, Cancer Research UK

  • Philippe Froguel
    7 November 2023

    Very good news and congratulations for this success against the number one mass killer

    Very nice article too