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A message to MPs: Don’t miss the opportunity to make smoking history

Ian Walker
by Ian Walker | Opinion

26 March 2024

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A broken cigarette on a yellow background
Credit: nawamin/

9.7 million!!  

That’s the number of cigarettes that Cancer Research UK analysis* has estimated won’t be smoked per day by 2040 if the proposed tobacco age of sale legislation is successfully implemented across the UK and has the impact Government hopes.  

That’s tens of billions of cigarettes in total between the initiation of the legislation and 2040. 

As someone who has lost loved ones to smoking-related cancers, to me one fewer cigarette smoked is a win – and 9.7 million fewer is an absolute triumph. So, the fact that the UK Government has the chance to vote through legislation that could make this number a reality is so exciting.   

I’ve long held strong views on tobacco control. Working at Cancer Research UK I am all too aware of the devastating impacts that smoking has on our society.  

Smoking is still the biggest cause of cancer. 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.  

So, I’ve been following closely since the UK Government announced landmark plans to help create the first smokefree generation by, among other things, raising the age of sale by one year every year, meaning that it will be illegal to sell tobacco products (or to buy tobacco products on behalf of) people born on or after 1 January 2009. 

Last week, we saw the first reading of this proposed legislation in The House of Commons. This is a key step in the process leading up to the all-important vote by MPs. 

This vote represents one of the biggest opportunities we have had to help prevent cancer in my living memory, and, importantly, it’s got the backing of the British public. A YouGov poll for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) indicated that 67% of people in England backed the Prime Minister’s plans to create a smokefree generation by raising the age of sale so that no one born on or after 1 January 2009 will be able to be legally sold tobacco products. 

So, this is a message to all MPs – don’t let down the people you represent, and help protect our children and grandchildren from the destruction caused by tobacco. 

By voting through this critical legislation, you can be responsible for helping create a smokefree future, where thousands more people can live their lives free from the fear of cancer.  

You can help stop people like me going through the pain of losing their loved ones too soon.  

And you can help stub out the single biggest driver of cancer inequalities.   

As a father of two young children I, like many parents, would take great comfort in knowing that tobacco is a deadly product that they will never legally be sold.  

This legislation, together with funding for vital cessation services, could give the UK the chance to become a world leader, and help to create the first ever smokefree generation. 

So, take action and secure a legacy that you can be proud of that will benefit generations to come.  Don’t let this be a missed opportunity. I can assure you; you won’t regret it.   

A poster for our Smokefree campaign

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You can get involved too. Use our quick and simple form to email your MP to say that you support a smokefree generation and encourage them to vote in favour of this historic measure. It takes just two minutes to make an impact.

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* Calculated by the Cancer Intelligence team at CRUK, 2024. Analysis based on: The best-case modelling from the Government – a reduction in rates of young people taking up smoking by 90% in England. More information here. Median number of cigarettes smoked per day by 18-34 year olds from the Health Survey for England, 2019, accessed November 2023. Smoking prevalence distribution by region and nation from Annual Population Survey, 2022, accessed January 2024. Population estimates for 2020 from Office for National Statistics, 2022, accessed November 2023. 

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