consultation on changes to vaping product laws at Oct. 4, 2023
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today proposed a so-called ‘smoke-free generation’ law for England, which would gradually ban the sale of cigarettes by raising the legal age of purchase by one year each year. Sunak also announced possible changes to laws on vaping products, including e-liquid flavours, nicotine-free e-liquids and disposable vapes.
The smokefree generation plan, as it exists now, would only pertain to tobacco products (and cigarette papers). It doesn’t incorporate vaping products or nicotine pouches, but that may modify in the future. The government claims that 71% of British grownups endorse a smokefree generation legislation.
“For a Conservative, measures that restrict choice are never easy,” Sunak said today at the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester. “What has ultimately swayed me is that none of us, not even those who smoke, want our children to grow up to be smokers and this change can make that a reality. It will save more lives than any other decision we could take.”
Due to the fact that health regulations are established independently by the UK’s countries, the suggested revisions would solely impact England, and not Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. However, the government has expressed an intention to “develop these proposals with a view to aligning policy approaches.”
The “smokefree generation” idea is not new
The smokefree generation plan proposed today by Sunak would prevent anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, from ever legally buying cigarettes or other tobacco products in England, where the current legal age is 18. The proposal could change before it becomes legislation, and is likely to be challenged in court if it passes.
The concept was initially suggested in Singapore in 2012, with the name Tobacco-Free Generation. Despite not having implemented a smoke-free generation legislation yet, a tobacco control advocacy group, named Tobacco Free Generation International, is located there.
Since the proposal in Singapore, two cities have passed variations on the “tobacco-free generation” law: Balanga City, Philippines, and Brookline, Massachusetts. The Brookline law, which has been in effect for over two years, also bans the sale of smoke- and tobacco-free vaping products to anyone born after 1999.
The difference between a law banning nicotine sales in a small city bordered on three sides by Boston and a law banning tobacco sales in England—a country of 55 million people—is that Brookline residents can just pop out of the city to stock up on cigarettes.
England is a large island country with an existing black market in cigarettes. Smokefree generation skeptics say the UK law will supercharge illegal markets, which are already a problem because of the country’s high tobacco taxes. Further, the law by definition discriminates based on age, making it a prime target for legal challenges.