The government has announced that it intends to raise the age of sale for tobacco products by one year, every year, from 2027 to prevent the next generation from becoming addicted to tobacco.
8 million lives have been lost to smoking since 1971. Together, we can end this epidemic and prevent our loved ones suffering from smoking related disease.
It used to be legal to sell tobacco to children as young as 16. In 2007, the law changed so that you had to be 18 to buy tobacco. This change had a big impact in reducing the number of 16- and 17-year-olds becoming addicted to smoking. But there are still far too many young people taking up smoking, with 4 in 5 smokers starting before the age of 20, many of whom will remain addicted for the rest of their lives. To prevent this, we need to go further by increasing the age of sale to prevent the next generation from ever becoming addicted to tobacco.
How will the legislation work?
Here's what you need to know:
- From 2027, the age of sale for tobacco will raise by one year every year, meaning that those who are born on or after the 1st of January 2009 will never catch up with the legal age to buy tobacco.
- The law will make it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone who falls under the age of sale. It will not criminalise underage purchase, possession or use of tobacco, so no one will ever be penalised for smoking.
- The government estimates that raising the age of sale each year will mean up to 1.7 million fewer people smoking by 2075. This would avoid up to 115,000 cases of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and other lung diseases and save tens of thousands of lives, saving the health and care system billions of pounds.
Why do we need to tackle smoking?
Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 64,000 deaths in England a year. No other consumer product kills up to two-thirds of its users.
Smoking puts huge pressure on the NHS, with almost one hospital admission every minute attributable to smoking and up to 75,000 GP appointments each month taken up by smoking-related illness.
Smoking has a huge cost to the public finances, costing England £21 billion in 2023. This is nearly double the £11 billion the treasury raises through tobacco tax revenues. This means less money left over for vital public services.
Your questions answered
Isn’t this just the nanny state taking away people’s free choice to smoke?
Those who can currently legally be sold tobacco will still be able to. This is about raising the age of sale for tobacco gradually to prevent the next generation becoming hooked to a uniquely harmful and addictive product which kills over half of all long-term users.Smoking is not a matter of free choice. Addiction deprives people of choice: two in three people who try one cigarette going on to become daily smokers, most of whom will regret ever starting.
Over four in five smokers became addicted to smoking before they turned 20, most as children. Once addicted, on average it takes 30 attempts to quit smoking, and only around one in ten smokers a year manage to quit.
Won’t this just lead to more people buying tobacco on the black market?
Raising the age of sale will have a gradual impact over time, so is unlikely to significantly impact the black market. When the tobacco age of sale increased from 16 to 18 in 2007 it had no impact on black market sales.
Strong enforcement is crucial for addressing the black market. The introduction of tough anti-smoking policies such as smokefree laws in 2007 and plain cigarette packs in 2015 did not lead to an increase in illicit sales because the UK has strong enforcement. This has led to the black market for cigarettes shrinking from 22% of the market in 2000 to 11% in 2022.One of the most effective ways of reducing demand for illicit tobacco is to encourage more people to quit smoking. This is why the Government has also announced a major increase in funding for stop smoking activity and public awareness campaigns; financial incentives for pregnant smokers; and a national vaping ‘swap-to-stop’ scheme to help 1 million smokers quit.
What can you do?
MPs will vote on the age of sale legislation in 2024. You can play your part in creating a smokefree generation by writing to your MP and asking them to vote in support of the legislation. Cancer Research UK have created a form to make it easy for you to let your MP know why you support a smokefree generation here. Remember to explain why this matters to you and what impact smoking has had on you or your loved ones.
We know that the tobacco industry is doing everything they can to block the legislation which makes it even more important for us to show MPs how much support there is for a smokefree generation. Tobacco companies are mobilising their vast resources to hold events, pay for ads and petitions, and lobby MPs in an effort to push misinformation and mislead the public. We’ve already seen tobacco-funded front groups and thinktanks lobbying hard against the age of sale policy. This will only increase in intensity as the legislation goes through parliament. You can check if an organisation has links to the tobacco industry by searching here.