Smoking ban: Sunak considers banning cigarettes for the next generation

Rishi Sunak could ban smoking as part of a crackdown to phase out cigarette use for the next generation.

The prime minister is said to be considering measures similar to those introduced by New Zealand last December, which involved steadily raising the legal smoking age.

Last year, a major review led by Dr Javed Khan backed England's proposals, which suggested that if implemented by 2026, anyone aged 15 and under would never be able to buy a cigarette.

The step will be part of what is believed to be a new consumer-focused drive by the government ahead of next year's election, Whitehall sources said The guardian.

The Conservatives, 20 percentage points behind Labor in the latest Ipsos poll, are believed to be struggling for new ideas to boost their popularity.

The legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products in England and Wales is 18, having been raised from 16 in 2007 by the last Labor government.

In December, New Zealand banned the sale of tobacco to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, while reducing the number of retailers selling cigarettes. The goal was to make the country smoke-free by 2025 and save billions of dollars in the health system.

The latest plans come as the UK government plans to ban single-use vapes after concerns that children could become addicted to them.

The Department of Health and Social Care is to launch a consultation on the ban after leading medical institutions, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, called for action to protect children's health.

In his government-commissioned report, Dr Khan said that without urgent action, England would miss the government's 2030 target of achieving a smoke-free nation by at least seven years, with the poorest areas not meeting it until 2044 .

It put the annual cost of smoking to society at around £17bn – £2.4bn to the NHS alone.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking & Health (Ash), said raising the legal smoking age had had results in other countries.

“Smoking is highly addictive and only one in three smokers quit before they die, taking an average of 30 tries before succeeding,” he said.

But the smoker's rights group Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest) said the move was anti-conservative and would not stop people from smoking.

Director Simon Clarke said the ban would “simply drive the sale of cigarettes underground and into the hands of criminal gangs”.

“If it is true that the Prime Minister wants to introduce some of the toughest anti-smoking measures in the world, depriving millions of adults of their freedom of choice, it will be a Conservative government in name only,” he added.

A government spokesman said: “Smoking is a deadly habit: it kills tens of thousands of people every year and puts a huge burden on the NHS and the economy.

“We want to encourage more people to quit smoking and meet our ambition to be smoke-free by 2030, so we are already taking steps to reduce smoking rates.”

Mr Sunak may also revive an idea he mooted during his party leadership campaign to impose a £10 fine on people who missed a doctor's or hospital appointment.

He scrapped the plan after taking office last year. A No 10 spokeswoman said that, after listening to GPs, the Government decided it was “not the right time” for the policy.

The prime minister this week sparked a raging civil war in the Tory party after backtracking on a key government climate pledge to reach net zero.

Downing Street did not rule out that the Prime Minister could accept a recommendation to ban cigarette sales to young people.