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Will Britain's ban on cigarette sales to non-smokers work? | health news

Will Britain's ban on cigarette sales to non-smokers work?  |  health news


The UK is set to take strong action to eradicate smoking, which has emerged as one of the biggest causes of cancer deaths in the country.

Parliament approved the government's historic plan on Tuesday to create a smoke-free generation in a bid to reduce the number of people dying from smoking-related diseases, which puts a heavy strain on the government's publicly funded National Health Service (NHS).

Lawmakers voted 383-67 to give the tobacco and vape bill a second reading, overcoming fierce opposition from some in the ruling Conservative Party who oppose state interference in people's lives. The bill now needs Senate approval to take effect. No party has an overall majority in the 790-member Lords, but the Conservatives outnumber Labor 278 to 173.

Parliament has now begun the process of consigning smoking to history, Deborah Arnott, head of pressure group Action on Smoking and Health, told Al Jazeera.

The bill must be passed quickly so that it can be registered on the statute book before the general election. The public, which overwhelmingly supports the bill, expects nothing less, she said.

An ad for the Tobacco and Vape Bill, also known as the Age of Sale Act, is seen in Westminster, London, on April 16, 2024. [Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters]
What does the UK ban include?

Rather than criminalizing the smoking habit, the bill aims to ensure that people turning 15 this year and younger will never be able to buy cigarettes legally.

It is currently illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18 years of age. The government plans to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after January 1, 2009. Under the bill, starting in 2027, the legal age limit will increase by one year each year. Until it becomes illegal for the entire population.

If all goes as planned, the government expects youth smoking to be eradicated by 2040.

Stores in England and Wales face on-the-spot fines of 100 pounds ($125) if they are caught selling cigarettes and vapes to minors. The court may already impose a fine of 2,500 pounds ($3,118).

Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, told BBC Radio 4 that he expected smoking to be eliminated almost entirely over time.

What's behind Britain's new rules?

Smoking is the biggest preventable killer in the UK.

According to the Office for National Statistics, about 13% of the UK's adult population of 6.4 million in 2022 were smokers.

According to statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), this is much lower than other European countries such as Italy, Germany, and France, where 18 to 23 percent of adults smoke.

Official figures show the habit causes 64,000 deaths a year in the UK, with around one in four dying from cancer.

Medical and healthcare experts and charities estimate that smoking causes 80,000 deaths each year, and the toll is even greater.

With the new ban, the UK government hopes to prevent more than 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases by the end of the century.

The bill also seeks to crack down on youth vaping by limiting flavors and packaging to make it less appealing to children. The jury is still out on the NHS finding there are no risks to vaping.

What do you think of the ban?

Opinion polls show that around two-thirds of British people support a phased smoking ban.

Health Minister Victoria Atkins told the House of Commons there was no freedom in addiction.

Nicotine robs people of their freedom of choice. The majority of smokers start smoking at a young age, and three-quarters say that if they could turn back the clock, they would never have started smoking.

But liberal lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party, including former Prime Minister Liz Truss, branded the move an attack on personal freedom. During the parliamentary debate, Truss said it was a virtue signal.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said he was not a smoker and agreed with Chancellor Rishi Sunak's intentions, but opposed the bill due to concerns about its impact on people's rights and the difficulty of implementing the policy.

“We should not treat adults with legal capacity any differently,” she said on social media platform X.

I am not a smoker and I think this is an unpleasant habit with great costs to both individuals and society. The PM's intentions on this bill are honest and mark him as a leader who does not shy away from tough issues.

Although I agree with his policy intentions. (1/4)

Kemi Badenoch (@KemiBadenoch) April 16, 2024

This bill is one of Sunak's flagship policies ahead of this year's general election, and opinion polls show that the opposition Labor Party is expected to win.

Dr Allen Gallagher, a researcher at the University of Bath's Tobacco Control Research Group, said the country was leading the world in terms of reducing the harm caused by tobacco and other countries could take similar steps.

Other approaches attempted so far include price and tax measures, regulating the content of tobacco products, packaging and labeling measures, and advertising restrictions.

This is the first test of phasing out cigarettes over generations, Gallagher told Al Jazeera.

Time will tell whether it is enough.

Have other countries implemented similar smoking bans?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 8 million people die every year due to tobacco use, of which an estimated 1.3 million non-smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke.

The proposed ban is thought to be inspired by a similar plan in New Zealand. The plan was introduced under former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern but was scrapped by the new coalition government this year before it could be implemented. By stopping one generation from smoking, the country of five million people hoped to avoid about 5,000 preventable deaths a year.

Last May, Portugal introduced legislation to limit cigarette sales and expand a ban on smoking in outdoor spaces, including covered terraces. The country hopes to raise a tobacco-free generation by 2040. According to government estimates, about 13,500 deaths in 2019 were due to tobacco use in Portugal, a country with a population of about 10 million.

Last year, Mexico implemented one of the world's strictest smoking laws, enforcing a blanket ban in public places, including hotels, beaches and parks, and halting advertising. The WHO's Pan American Health Organization (PAWHO) estimates that smoking is responsible for more than 10% of the 128 million deaths, or about 63,000 deaths per year.

Also last year, Canada became the first country to print health warnings on individual cigarettes. The message is that every puff contains poison and that cigarettes cause erectile dysfunction. Tobacco use remains a leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in the country of 39 million, killing approximately 48,000 people each year.

Smoking in public places has been banned in India since 2002, but organizations can create specific smoking areas.




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