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Rishi Sunak defends plan to raise smoking age one year every year

Rishi Sunak defends plan to raise smoking age one year every year

Rishi Sunak announced his proposed smoking legislation at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester yesterday

Rishi Sunak has defended his proposal to increase the legal age at which people can buy cigarettes by one year every year, calling it the ‘biggest public health intervention in a generation’.

Sunak announced the plans during his speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester yesterday, promising that a ‘free vote’ – which is to say, where MPs vote with their own preference rather than with party whip – would be put before Parliament.

The Prime Minister later told BBC News that there is ‘no safe level of smoking’ and reiterated his claims made on stage about the cost to the NHS as well as the significant human cost of smoking and smoking-related illness.

Opposing party Labour has already indicated that it would support the plans, which aim to eventually make it so no-one can legally buy tobacco.

However, it has been criticised by some, who suggest that it will simply create a ‘black market’.

Rishi Sunak unveiled the plans in his Conservative Party Conference speech.
Christopher Furlong/Getty

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Sunak defended the decision to bring forward these plans but not to continue with the government’s anti-obesity strategy, claiming to believe in ‘people’s right to choose’.

Sunak said that smoking is not part of any balanced diet, and therefore is a different case to food.

He has recently announced that a ban on two-for-one junk food deals – which had been set to come in this month – have been pushed back for two additional years.

The Tory PM said: “Smoking is unequivocally the single biggest preventable cause of death, disability and illness in our society.

"Everyone recognises this measure will be the single biggest intervention in public health in a generation."

Restrictive measures such as this – he said – are ‘never easy’ but are preferable to children starting smoking.

Rates of smoking have been steadily declining since the 1970s, but there are still more than five million smokers in the UK.

At the moment, one in nine 18-24 year olds smokes, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Labour agreed to support the legislation, stating that it would ‘not play politics with public health’, but there will be those within Sunak’s own party that will object to the proposed legislation.

Ex-PM Liz Truss said that the party needed to ‘stop banning things’ and it is understood that she will not support the legislation.

The proposed rules would essentially ban smoking eventually.
SimpleImages/Getty

Christopher Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told BBC News: "You're going to have, almost certainly, a fairly large, informal market of smokers who are old enough to buy cigarettes selling cigarettes to people who are not old enough.

"The problem with prohibition isn't that it doesn't have any effect whatsoever on consumption, the problem with prohibition is it leads to massive black markets and a lot of tax revenues gone."

It is not yet clear when the proposals will be put before Parliament.

Featured Image Credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images/Getty Stock Image

Topics: UK News, Health, Rishi Sunak, Politics