What is the UK smoking ban, how will it work and when will it start?

  • By Aurelia Foster
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak effectively wants to ban smoking in the UK.

MPs have voted to back the government’s plans to create a “smoke-free generation”, and reduce the number of smoking-related deaths.

What is the smoking ban?

Under the new law, each year the legal age for cigarette sales – currently 18 – will increase by one year.

It means that people born in or after 2009 will never be able to legally buy cigarettes, leading to an effective ban.

The law will not affect those who are allowed to buy cigarettes now.

To crack down on under-age sales, the government says it will introduce £100 on-the-spot fines for shops in England and Wales which sell tobacco and vapes to under-age people.

Local authorities will retain the proceeds to reinvest into enforcement of the law.

This would be on top of £2,500 fines that courts can already impose.

The government says it will spend £30m on enforcement, which will include tackling the availability of cigarettes on the black market.

The new rules will apply in all duty free shops in the UK, but anyone buying cigarettes abroad would be able to bring them back to the UK as long as they were legally acquired elsewhere.

The government aims to have the new system in force by 2027.

Mr Sunak wants to work with the governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to introduce the legislation across the UK.

How bad is smoking, and how many deaths does it lead to?

Cigarettes release thousands of different chemicals when they burn, including carbon monoxide, lead, and ammonia.

Many components of tobacco are poisonous, and up to 70 cause cancer.

Smoking is also linked to other serious illnesses, including lung disease, heart disease and strokes. It can affect fertility and pregnancy.

The government says it is still the number one preventable cause of death, disability and ill health, causing around 80,000 deaths per year across the UK, and costing the NHS and the economy an estimated £17bn every year,

According to the government, creating a “smoke-free generation” could prevent more than 470,000 cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases by the end of the century.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, An estimated five million disposable vapes are thrown away each week in the UK

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill also aims to tackle vaping among young people who have never smoked before.

Vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but is not risk-free. Health experts agree that anyone who does not already smoke should not start vaping.

The government has already announced plans to ban disposable vapes in England as soon as April 2025, and hopes to extend this ban across the UK as well.

The contents, flavours and packaging of nicotine vapes will also be restricted in order to make them less attractive to children. A new tax on vaping will be introduced from October 2026.

Vaping alternatives – such as nicotine pouches – will also be outlawed for children.

What is happening to smoking rates in the UK?

Smoking rates in older teens remain high – more than 12% of 16 to 17-year-olds smoke in England.

Although the number of 11 to 17-year-olds who smoke cigarettes has gone down in the last decade, the popularity of vaping has increased in this age group, with disposable vapes being the most popular type.

According the Office for National Statistics (ONS),12.9% of people aged 18 years and over in the UK – or about 6.4 million people – smoked cigarettes in 2022. This is the lowest proportion of current smokers since records began in 2011.

The 25-34 age group has the highest proportion of smokers, while the lowest was among those aged 65 and over.

Of the UK nations, England has the lowest proportion of current smokers and Wales has the highest.

The price of smoking has increased substantially in recent years, with a packet of 20 king-size cigarettes now costing more than £15, with £6.33 of that being tax.

According to the anti-smoking charity Ash, successive increases in tobacco duty may have encouraged some consumers to smoke less or stop altogether.

The proportion rose from 12% to 15% between 2013 and 2023, the study estimates.

Less advantaged women were more likely to smoke overall but smoking rates among this age group fell from 29% to 22%.

The proportion of women under 45 vaping rose from 5% to 20%.

Are other countries banning smoking?

The UK’s approach is thought to have been inspired by a policy in New Zealand.

Mexico has some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in the world, including smoking bans at beaches, parks and in some cases, private homes.

Portugal aims to have a “smoke-free generation” by 2040, and wants to pass a law that would stop bars, cafes and petrol stations from selling tobacco products.

Canada is hoping to reduce tobacco use to less than 5% by 2035 and earlier this year, became the first country to rule that health warnings should be printed on individual cigarettes.

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