four questions on the plan to ban the sale of cigarettes to generations born from 2009

The adoption of this measure, unique in the world, is on track despite opposition from certain conservatives. The British government hopes to reduce mortality and public spending associated with smoking.



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A person lighting a cigarette in London (United Kingdom), June 9, 2022. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Will the UK become a smoke-free country? This is in any case the long-term ambition of the British government, which is defending a bill aimed at banning the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after January 1, 2009, including after reaching the age of majority. The elected representatives of the House of Commons voted in favor of the text on Tuesday April 16. In the event of final adoption of the text, which could take place in June depending on the Guardian, these teenagers now aged 14 or 15 would thus become the first “tobacco-free generation” in the United Kingdom, where cigarettes are the leading cause of avoidable mortality according to the government. Franceinfo returns, in four questions, to the issues surrounding this much-noticed text.

1 What exactly does this bill provide?

To combat smoking, the government led by conservative Rishi Sunak has decided to tackle the sale of cigarettes. The bill passed on Tuesday, which may still be amended as it passes through the British Parliament, plans to make any sale of cigarettes illegal to people born after January 1, 2009. The sale of tobacco is currently prohibited to those under 18 years of age. in the United Kingdom – this minimum age will therefore, mathematically, gradually increase from 2027, when young people from the first “tobacco-free generation” will reach the age of majority.

The text, which will apply in England and Wales, provides for a fine of 100 pounds sterling (117 euros) for stores which do not respect the ban. This sum is in addition to the fines of 2,500 pounds (2,920 euros) that the courts can already impose in the event of the sale of tobacco to minors, specifies the British executive in a press release.

But the fight against smoking is no longer limited to cigarettes. This is why the bill also places restrictions on the flavors of electronic cigarettes, popular in playgrounds. By 2023, one in five children aged 11-17 had already vaped in the UK, according to a YouGov survey for the anti-smoking organization ASH. The text intends to extend the ban on sales to minors to products without nicotine, and to regulate the way in which products are sold and packaged, in order to make them less attractive.

2 Why is the UK taking such measures?

“It is our responsibility, our duty, to protect the next generation”, justified the Minister of Health, Victoria Atkins, at the opening of the debates in Westminster on Tuesday. Because in total, 6.4 million Britons aged over 18 will still smoke cigarettes in 2023, or around 12.9% of the population, according to ASH. Even if the number of smokers is half as high as in France, tobacco is the leading cause of avoidable mortality in the United Kingdom, responsible for 80,000 deaths per year according to the government. Creating a “smoking-free generation” could prevent more than 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other conditions by the end of the century, argues the British executive.

Around 12% of English people aged 16 and 17 smoke, and four in five smokers started before the age of 20, the British government also suggests. “A large majority of smokers wish they had never started”, underlined on the BBC Chris Whitty, chief medical adviser to the British government. But “once they become addicted, they no longer have a choice”.

Tobacco also has a serious impact on the British health system. The ASH organization estimates that smoking and its consequences cost 17 billion pounds (nearly 20 billion euros) “to the society” British every year. In addition to health-related costs, the anti-smoking association includes in its calculation the costs linked to reduced productivity, work stoppages and early mortality among smokers of working age.

3 Why is this policy debated across the Channel?

This bill, although supported by the vast majority of British people, has sparked widespread criticism, particularly from the camp of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. On Tuesday, during the vote in the House of Commons, almost all of the 67 votes against the text came from the Conservatives. The short-lived head of government Liz Truss saw the text as an attack on the principles of her political family: “We are a free country. We should not be the ones telling people not to smoke”she estimated. “He “It’s very important to protect people until they have the capacity to make decisions when they grow up, but I think the very idea that we can protect adults from themselves is extremely problematic.” added, in the House of Commons, the one whom Rishi Sunak succeeded.

Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, seen as a potential candidate for leadership of the Conservative Party, also opposed the text onaffirming its attachment to “individual liberty”but also “the principle of equality before the law”to which this ban affecting certain generations “would be an affront”.

“We are not used to banning things, we don’t like it”but “we came to the conclusion that there is no freedom in addiction”retorted the Minister of Health, Victoria Atkins, on the podium, Tuesday. A position shared by the government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, who recalled that once people become addicted to tobacco, “they were deprived of their choice”.

4 Does this ban exist elsewhere?

The United Kingdom’s project is very similar to that of New Zealand, the first country in the world to pass a text of this type in 2022. The law was to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born from 2008. But end 2023, the new conservative government announced the abandonment of these pioneering measures, citing fears of the emergence of a vast black market in tobacco. Newly elected Prime Minister Christopher Luxon also acknowledged that tax revenues from cigarette sales generated welcome revenue for the government, while emphasizing that this was not “not the motivation” of the executive to reverse this ban.

Bhutan and the Vatican have completely banned the sale of cigarettes of all ages. However, other countries have put in place policies to eradicate tobacco. Australia is one of the most restrictive countries, since smoking is prohibited in all public places, with the exception of the street, explains The cross. In Latin America, only Mexico has proposed similar legislation, with a ban on smoking in public spaces, parks and squares included, since January 2023, according to Euronews.

The idea of ​​preventing young people from taking up cigarettes is, moreover, not completely foreign to France: in 2021, Emmanuel Macron said he wanted a “tobacco-free generation”, referring to young people who will be 20 years old in 2030. That is to say only one year younger than the age group concerned in the United Kingdom. But the President of the Republic proposed to act on prices, prevention campaigns and the extension of non-smoking places, without considering a total ban on sales.

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