Oct. 4 (UPI) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled an ambitious plan Wednesday to prevent smoking-related deaths for future generations by raising the age to buy cigarettes one year every year “so that eventually no one can buy them.”
Sunak’s plan, which he discussed at a Conservative Party conference, would be among the toughest anti-smoking rules in the world and prevent 14-year-olds today from ever buying tobacco.
“There is no safe level of smoking,” the prime minister told the conference. “If we want to do the right thing for our kids, we must try and stop teenagers taking up cigarettes in the first place.”
“Because without significant change, thousands of children will start smoking in the coming years and have their lives cut short,” Sunak added.
England already has banned smoking in public places and raised the smoking age to 18. There are more than 5 million smokers in England and 6 million across the United Kingdom., according to the country’s Office for National Statistics.
Sunak called smoking the leading cause of preventable ill-health, which includes one in four deaths from cancer. Tobacco use also increases the risk of strokes, heart disease, dementia and stillbirth.
Sunak said members of parliament would be given a free vote on the proposed tobacco rules, which would raise the age of sale from 18 every year, as recommended by a government-commissioned review in 2022.
“When we raised the smoking age to 18, smoking prevalence dropped by 30% in that age group,” Sunak said. “When the United States raised the age to 21, the smoking rate dropped by 39% in that age group.”
While smoking rates have been falling since the 1970s, vaping is on the rise.
“We’ll also bring forward measures to restrict the availability of vapes to our children — looking at flavors, packaging, displays and disposable vapes,” Sunak said.
As Public Health England promotes “Stoptober” this month to encourage smokers to take a break from cigarettes, the campaign has proven to be a hard sell in Mid Devon, where more than 25% of the residents smoke.
Other areas, such as east Sussex and Lincoln, also have high rates of smokers who are likely to push back against the prime minister’s plan.
Besides saving lives, Sunak’s vision also would help the government achieve its goal of making England virtually smoke-free by 2030, while saving the country billions of dollars.
“We have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter, significantly ease those pressures and protect our children, and we should take it,” the prime minister said.