WARNING: This product contains nicotine.
Nicotine is an addictive chemical.

WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.

Does the UK’s new “smoke-free generation” law impact vapers?

On the 4th of October, Rishi Sunak gave a keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and unveiled plans to create a “smoke-free generation”1Department of Health and Social Care, Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care by Command of His Majesty, “Stopping the start: our new plan to create a smokefree generation,” Published 4 October 2023. [Online]. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/651d43df6a6955001278b2b0/cp-949-I-stopping-the-start-our-new-plan-to-create-a-smokefree-generation.pdf. This new law will raise the legal age to buy cigarettes by one year, each year. He went on to explain that “a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette”, meaning that “their generation can grow up smoke-free.” 

This proposal is part of the government’s goal of being smoke-free by 20302Bukky Balogun, Rachael Harker, The Smokefree 2030 ambition for England,” House of Commons Library, [Online]. Available: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9655/. In an interview with Radio 4, Sunak said: “Smoking is unequivocally the single biggest preventable cause of death, disability, and illness in our society.”3J. Gregory, “Rishi Sunak defends his plan to ban smoking for younger generation,” BBC News, [Online]. Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67010681 Research shows that smoking causes approximately 1 in 4 deaths from cancer4Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, “Prime Minister to create ‘smokefree generation’ by ending cigarette sales to those born on or after 1 January 2009,” GOV.UK, [Online]. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-to-create-smokefree-generation-by-ending-cigarette-sales-to-those-born-on-or-after-1-january-2009, as well as many other serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

On top of the health implications, smoking also has a wide range of social implications. Deaths from smoking are more than two times higher in the most deprived local authorities, and youth initiation is also far higher. One study found that 15-year-olds living in the most deprived areas are twice as likely to report regular smoking than those living in the least deprived areas5“Smoking in young people,” State of Child Health, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, [Online]. Available: https://stateofchildhealth.rcpch.ac.uk/evidence/health-behaviours/smoking-young-people/#ref-29.

Sunak’s dream of a smoke-free generation has already come under fire, with some critics questioning the experimental nature of his strategy. New Zealand is the only country in the world that uses the framework Sunak described in his keynote speech, meaning the effects are untested. 

The smoke-free generation proposal has also sparked concerns among vapers, who are still reeling from the news that the UK government is considering banning disposable vapes. In his keynote speech, Sunak was ambiguous about his exact plans for vapes in the UK, but the government website offers more insight into the issue. 

According to the government website, the Conservative Party is planning to “consult on plans to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children.” This consultation will include conversations around:

  • Restricting the flavors and descriptions of vapes
  • Regulating point-of-sale displays in retail outlets
  • Regulating vape packaging and product presentation
  • Restricting the sale of disposable vapes

In the last decade, vaping has become an acceptable alternative to cigarettes in the UK. Campaigns like Swaptember actively encourage smokers to stub out their cigarettes and switch to e-cigarettes, and even the NHS admits that e-cigarettes are “far less harmful than cigarettes, and can help you quit smoking for good.”6“Using e-cigarettes to stop smoking,” NHS, [Online]. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/using-e-cigarettes-to-stop-smoking/

According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), 4.7 million adults in Great Britain currently use cigarettes7Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Fact Sheet: Use of e-cigarettes (vapes) among adults in Great Britain. August 2023. https://ash.org.uk/uploads/Use-of-e-cigarettes-among-adults-in-Great-Britain-2023.pdf, and 56% of them are ex-smokers. We have to wonder why the UK government is attacking one of the most popular smoking cessation aids available to smokers. 

Although the new smoke-free generation proposal does not directly impact vapers, it is just one of many new potential proposals that seek to restrict the production and sale of any product that contains nicotine. Concerned vapers in the UK will not know more until the Conservative Party has consulted on the issue of e-cigarettes.

It is important to remember that there are separate health laws for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Any laws that the Conservative Party passes will only go into effect in England. However, the Scottish Public Health Minister has expressed “strong support”8Davis Bol, PressReader, The Herald [Online]. Available: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-herald-1130/20231006/281659669685554 for the idea of raising the smoking age in Scotland, so it could only be a matter of time until everyone in the UK is subject to even harsher nicotine restrictions. 


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Lexi Burgess
Lexi Burgess
I keep my ear to the ground to report on Vaping, emerging health research, and new vape legislation. When the ever-changing landscape of the vape industry isn’t on my mind, I play badminton and read old horror novels.
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