Health leaders welcome King’s Speech setting out Government’s proposals for a smokefree generation
Health campaigners, doctors, local councillors, academics, NHS leaders and survivors of smoking from across England have come together to welcome the government’s legislative plans to create a smokefree generation in today’s King’s Speech.
In a new ‘Tobacco and Vapes Bill’  the Government will introduce a historic new law to stop children who turn 14 this year, or younger, from ever legally being sold cigarettes in England. It will also introduce further regulations to prevent the sale and promotion of vapes to children.
The confirmation that raising the legal age of sale for tobacco will be a key part of the legislative programme is a landmark moment in the history of tobacco control. In 2021, ASH estimated that the tobacco industry had killed 8 million people over the previous 50 years but with new legislation the terrible toll of tobacco could become a footnote in history.
- · Most smokers start as teenagers with 83% smoking before the age of 20 
- Three quarters of smokers would never have started if they had the choice again 
- Smokers who start younger have higher levels of tobacco dependency and suffer a worse risk of lung cancer and heart disease during their lives 
Tobacco is an entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the country, responsible for 64,000 deaths in England a year. No other consumer product kills up to two-thirds of its users.
Representatives from some of the country’s leading organisations working on tobacco have welcomed the announcement. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Fresh, Greater Manchester Integrated Care Partnership, Humber and North Yorkshire Tobacco Control Programme and London Tobacco Alliance, have come together to build on the momentum of creating a smokefree future.
Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of health charity ASH, said: “Tobacco has blighted so many lives, damaging our economy and public services in the process. All the major political parties recognise this impact and are committed to a smokefree future for Britain. Now parliamentarians have a historic opportunity to set this country on a path to end smoking.
Public support for this change is already high with 3 in 5 people backing the measure but this support is likely to grow as parliament debates this legislation and the public are reminded of terrible impact of smoking on society.”
ASH also welcomed Government commitment to take action to protect children from vaping products. Hazel added: “Vapes have been a valuable aid to help smokers quit but vaping has been growing among teens. Further regulations are needed to ensure products are not promoted or sold to teens. In addition, we’d welcome a further duty on disposable vapes to reduce their affordability for teenagers while ensuring they remain cheaper than lethal tobacco products.”
Prof Ann McNeill, Professor of Addiction, King’s College London and co-Chair of the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership: “There is growing evidence that smoking causes some mental health conditions like depression and schizophrenia. A smokefree generation can be part of a strategy to prevent the growing levels of poor mental health in our society.”
Cllr Jim Dickson, Joint Cabinet Member for Healthier Communities at Lambeth Council and member of the London Tobacco Alliance said: “Local councils have a job to improve the public’s health but we can only do that properly when parliament puts the right regulations in place to protect our communities.
“The changes in the law will enable us to protect our children from the harms of smoking and risks of vaping and they cannot come to soon.”
Sue Symington, Chair of the Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, said: “Smoking is the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in our region.
“Along with other partners across the UK, we welcome these proposals and are pleased the government recognises the importance of abolishing smoking from our communities for good.
“It is clear that urgent legislation is needed to reduce the appeal of smoking and vaping to children and young people.”
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “Tobacco is the only product where people get addicted as children, taking away any “adult choice” and it is time to give our next generation a better life with decisive and bold action across the UK.
“We know that the government’s proposals can work, and that there is public support for measures such as increasing the age of sale and the introduction of a tobacco industry levy to fund prevention. We need to act now to encourage and help smokers to stop, and to prevent children and young people from starting smoking.”
Middlesbrough Council Chief Executive Clive Heaphy has given his backing to the proposals to radically change smoking age restrictions.
Mr. Heaphy recently spoke passionately about the impact smoking had on members of his own family at a North East conference arranged by Fresh.
He said today, “The proposals from the government have the potential to make a lasting difference for generations.
“I know from personal experience the horrific harm smoking can do. It has wrecked lives and placed huge pressure on the NHS for decades.
“Smoking contributes massively to the tragic health inequalities we see in Middlesbrough and is the biggest cause of preventable deaths.
“Cutting off the habit for generations of people would be momentous.”
Dr Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory consultant and Clinical Lead for Tobacco for the North East and North Cumbria NHS ICB, said: “Nobody wants our children to become the next generation of adults with smoking-related illnesses on our hospital wards.
“The Government’s consultation provides us with a once-on-a-generation chance to make a difference to young people and enable them to have a life without the addiction, cost and diseases caused by tobacco.”
The Government also launched an eight-week consultation across the UK with proposals including:
- Making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products
- Restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that vape flavours are no longer targeted at children – we want to ensure this is done in a way that continues to support adult smokers to switch
- Regulating point of sale displays in retail outlets so that vapes are kept out of sight from children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets
- Regulating vape packaging and product presentation, ensuring that neither the device nor its packaging is targeted to children
- Consider restricting the sale of disposable vapes linked to the rise in vaping in children.
- Exploring further restrictions for non-nicotine vapes and other nicotine consumer products such as nicotine pouches
- Exploring whether increasing the price of vapes will reduce the number of young people using them
- Introducing new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines (Fixed Penalty Notices) to enforce age of sale legislation of tobacco products and vapes.
 King’s Speech briefing from Prime Minister’s office: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/654a21952f045e001214dcd7/The_King_s_Speech_background_briefing_notes.pdf
 Policy paper: Stopping the start: our new plan to create a smokefree generation. 5 October 2023
Notes to the Editor
Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, and provides the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.
For interviews and more information contact email@example.com or call Hazel Cheeseman on 077 5435 8593.