At the start of this month, Rishi Sunak proposed some of the biggest and boldest changes to smoking laws that we have ever seen in the UK.
Under the Government’s new plans, the age of sale would rise from 18 every year, so a child aged 14 today would never be allowed to buy tobacco. Alongside this the Government has allocated more funding for stop smoking services and public health campaigns in England.
I’ve been watching the response to the plans with interest, and I am unsurprised to see some people object – but I believe the PM’s decision could and will leave a lasting legacy for the nation.
Rishi Sunak is right to take this bold action.
Every government has a responsibility towards promoting the wellbeing of the public and at Cancer Research UK we know only too well how devastating smoking can be.
It is the biggest preventable killer in the UK. It causes 15 types of cancer, as well as increasing risk of heart disease, stroke and stillbirths. Smoking causes more than one in four cancer deaths. When used as recommended by the manufacturer, cigarettes are the one legal product that will kill the consumer – 2 out of 3 people who smoke will die from smoking.
People who smoke know this – the majority try to quit, but often struggle due to just how terribly addictive cigarettes are. They are designed to be difficult to stop as both my parents found.
Smoking has a devastating impact on us all.
The annual toll to the UK economy is enormous. In England alone, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) estimates that tobacco costs the economy around £14billion every year in premature death, reduced earnings and unemployment.
And it impacts negatively on the NHS as well. Around 500,000 hospital admissions every year in England are attributable to smoking – equivalent to one person being admitted every minute. And we calculate that up to 75,000 GP appointments could be freed up each month in England if we became Smokefree.
But the hardest cost is ultimately borne by those who lose their lives to lung cancer. For some, it can be a difficult and distressing way to die – as patients struggle for breath, struggle with the pain and confusion, and struggle with the extreme weakness, tiredness and lack of appetite.
When you consider the cost, the damage, and the danger of addiction it’s right for the Prime Minister to take a long-term decision which will benefit Britons.
The PM should face down any criticism. He has the public on his side. A poll conducted in October by YouGov found almost two thirds of those asked supported the policy to raise the age of sale of tobacco by one year every year.
And to those who claim banning cigarettes for the future generations is a curb on their freedom I say, speak to the millions who want to give up smoking and struggle. Tobacco addiction isn’t freedom – people’s lives are restricted by managing cravings, poor health and wasted money.
New legislation could free the future generations from ill health that smoking causes and reduce number of cancer deaths from the legacy of cynical, targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, and free us all from the fear that our children will be next to take it up.
The PM must press ahead and ensure that the new legislation is in the King’s Speech in November, and ensure that it is brought before Parliament before the end of the year. We believe that there should and will be a cross party coalition on this issue. We can’t afford anything less – tobacco kills one person every five minutes in the UK. The clock is ticking.
This article was originally published in The Express.