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UK Set to Ban Tobacco Sales for Those Born After 2009

The United Kingdom is taking a significant step towards creating a "smoke-free generation" by introducing one of the strictest regulations on tobacco sales worldwide. The proposed Tobacco and Vapes Bill aims to restrict the sale of cigarettes to individuals born after 2009, effectively raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products annually starting in 2027. Consequently, those born in 2009 or later will never be able to legally buy tobacco in the UK.


The bill primarily targets the sale of tobacco products, not the act of smoking itself, aiming to prevent future generations from becoming smokers. It seeks to stop individuals who turn 15 this year or younger from purchasing tobacco products. Currently, the legal age to buy cigarettes in the UK is 18.


Under the proposed law, the legal purchasing age for cigarettes will increase annually, aiming for the near-eradication of smoking among young people by 2040. England's Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, highlighted the potential outcome during an interview with BBC Radio 4, stating, "We do expect over time, smoking to die out almost completely."


Retailers who sell cigarettes or vapes to underage individuals will face severe penalties, including on-the-spot fines of £100 and potential court fines of up to £2,500. These measures are designed to deter sales of tobacco and vaping products to minors and ensure compliance with the law.


The rationale behind the movement stems from the devastating impact of smoking on public health. Smoking is the UK's largest preventable killer, affecting 13% of the adult population, or 6.4 million people, in 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics. The habit causes around 64,000 deaths annually in England and accounts for one in four cancer deaths.


Medical and healthcare experts, as well as charities, estimate the toll to be even higher, with smoking causing around 80,000 deaths annually across the UK. The proposed ban aims to prevent over 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and other smoking-related illnesses by the end of the century.


The legislation also addresses the growing trend of vaping among young people by restricting flavors and packaging to make them less appealing to children. While vaping is considered less harmful than smoking, the NHS cautions that it is "not risk-free" and advises against young people taking up the habit. Children's doctors warn that vaping may cause long-term damage to young people's lungs, hearts, and brains.


The Tobacco and Vapes Bill recently passed with strong support in a parliamentary vote, with 383 MPs voting in favor and only 67 opposing it. The bill now proceeds to the House of Lords for further approval, where no party holds an overall majority, although the Conservatives have a notable presence.


Critics of the bill, including some members of the ruling Conservative Party, argue that it infringes on personal freedoms and individual rights. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss described the proposal as "virtue-signaling" and an attack on personal freedoms during the parliamentary debate.


Libertarian-leaning MPs, including Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, expressed concerns about treating legally competent adults differently based on birthdate, which could result in permanently different rights for individuals born just a day apart.


Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to the smoking ban as "absolutely nuts" and criticized the party for considering banning cigars. He stated, "When the party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars, donnez-moi un break, as they say in Quebec; it's just mad."


Health Secretary Victoria Atkins responded, "There is no liberty in addiction. Nicotine robs people of their freedom to choose." She emphasized that most smokers begin smoking at a young age and that three-quarters of smokers wish they had never started.


The UK government has allocated £30 million for enforcement efforts, including addressing the availability of cigarettes on the black market. While the new rules apply to all duty-free shops in the UK, individuals will still be able to bring cigarettes purchased legally abroad back into the country.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak aims to work with the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to implement the legislation uniformly across the UK. The goal is to have the new system in place by 2027.


The debate around the bill echoes similar efforts in other countries. For instance, New Zealand introduced a similar plan under former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, aiming to eliminate smoking by banning the sale of cigarettes to those born after 2009. However, the new coalition government in New Zealand repealed the measure before it could be enforced.


Other countries like Portugal, Mexico, and Canada have also implemented strict smoking regulations to curb the impact of tobacco use on public health. Mexico's stringent laws ban smoking in public places and prohibit tobacco advertising, while Canada was the first country to introduce printed health warnings on individual cigarettes.


Overall, the UK's proposed legislation represents a significant effort to combat smoking and vaping among young people while addressing the public health crisis caused by tobacco use. If successful, the bill could pave the way for similar measures in other countries, potentially leading to a future free from the devastating effects of smoking.

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