Smoking ban UK: What does the new bill do as MPs vote to ban tobacco for generation alpha?

MPs have voted to pass a landmark smoking bill which the government says will create the UK’s first “smokefree generation”.

First announced in the King’s speech last November, the controversial bill passed through Commons on Tuesday (April 16) as Labour threw their weight behind it. It was not without opposition.

56 Tory MPs voted against Rishi Sunak’s bill, while a further to 106 either abstained or were absent. However, members had been given a free vote by the government, meaning they have not been told which way to vote. This softens the blow for Mr Sunak in against this backbench rebellion.

The new bill has been backed by many medical bodies and health charities as a positive step in tackling the UK’s ‘biggest preventable killer’.

Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Too many people know someone whose life has been tragically cut short or irreversibly changed because of smoking.

“Which despite significant progress remains the UK’s biggest preventable killer.

“This Bill will save thousands of lives, ease the strain on our NHS, and improve the UK’s productivity.”

Does the new bill ban smoking for everyone?

The bill prevents anyone born after 1 January 2009 from purchasing tobacco products, ever. This would mean children aged 15 today – in ‘Generation Alpha’ – will never be able to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Professor Steve Turner, president of the Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health, has backed the bill, citing the benefits for young people.

“By stopping children and young people from becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco we decrease their chances of developing preventable diseases later in life, and will protect children from the harms of nicotine addiction,” he said.

However, opponents of the bill argue the smoking ban denies young people the right to make their own decisions when they reach adulthood.

Simon Clark, director of the Forest smokers’ rights group told The Independent: “The generational smoking ban will infantilise future generations of adults. When you are 18 you are legally an adult and should be treated like one.

“At 18 you can drive a car, join the army, possess a credit card, purchase alcohol and vote, so you also be allowed to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products.

“This is not about protecting children. The legal age of sale is already 18 so if you want to stop children smoking the answer is to crack down on illicit sellers, not adults who choose to smoke”.

Will the smoking ban affect vaping?

The ban on purchasing tobacco products will not be extended to vaping products, the government has confirmed.

However, the bill will bring some new restrictions to vaping products by restricting the flavours available and regulating packaging. These measures aim to make vaping less appealing to children.

“While vaping can play a useful role in helping adult smokers to quit, non-smokers and children should never vape,” says a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

“The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine contained within them can be highly addictive.”

Why are some MPs voting against the bill?

The smoking bill has been criticised by some Conservative politicians as “illiberal”, coming with the risk of creating a two-tier system where older adults can buy tobacco and while younger adults can’t.

Former Tory prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson are amongst those who have spoken out against the bill, while MP Simon Clarke has criticised the optics.

“I think, it actually risks making smoking cooler. It certainly risks creating a black market and it also risks creating a unmanageable challenge for the authorities,” he said.

The smoking ban marks a world first, putting the UK’s anti-smoking legislation amongst some of the strictest anywhere. New Zealand’s new government recently dropped plans for a similar policy following political pressure.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has advised the government to ignore smoking proponents and lobbyists, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today:

“The majority, the great majority, of smokers wish they had never started, but they become addicted at an early age and then they’re trapped and their choice has been taken away by that addiction.

“This is one of the reasons why the argument that ‘if you’re pro-choice, you’re in favour of cigarettes’ is so surprising, because this is a product which is designed to take your choice away from you.”