• Reuters

Britain Proposes Ban on Cigarettes for Younger Generations

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A Union Jack flag, September 20, 2023.

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Britain’s government on Wednesday proposed banning younger generations from ever buying cigarettes, a move that would give the country some of the world’s toughest smoking rules and hurt the sales of major tobacco firms.

If passed into law, the smoking age would rise by one year every year, potentially phasing out smoking among young people almost completely as soon as 2040, a briefing paper said.

“A 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Conservative Party conference, where he announced the plan.

Smoking costs Britain’s health services 17 billion pounds ($20.6 billion) a year, he said, adding the government also needed to act on youth vaping.

It would consult on restricting the flavors and descriptions of vapes and look at regulating vape packaging and presentation, according to the briefing paper.

Campaign group Action on Smoking and Health welcomed Sunak’s plans, adding they could hasten the day when smoking was obsolete.

The tobacco industry criticized the proposals. The Tobacco Manufacturers Association said they were a “disproportionate attack” on adults’ rights and would fuel black market trade.

“The prohibition of legal products always has dangerous side effects and opens the door to criminal gangs to sell illegal products,” it said.

Imperial Brands IMB.L, which makes Winston cigarettes and Golden Virginia rolling tobacco, also warned the ban threatened “unintended consequences.” Lucky Strike and Dunhill maker British American Tobacco BATS.L said the proposals would be difficult to enforce.

GRADUAL IMPACT

The smoking policy would need to pass a free vote in Britain’s parliament. This means lawmakers can vote however they like rather than in line with party policies.

If passed, Britain would become the first country in Europe to join New Zealand, which announced a similar plan last year, in banning smoking for future generations.

Academics said increases to the smoking age have successfully reduced smoking rates among young people around the world.

The change could hurt companies who generate a relatively large portion of their earnings from British tobacco sales, analysts said, such as Japan Tobacco 2914.T, maker of Camel and Benson & Hedges, and Imperial Brands.

While short-term effects were likely minimal, over time the ban’s impact “could gradually become material,” said Owen Bennett, analyst at Jefferies, adding people aged 18-25 make up around 10% of Britain’s current adult smokers.

Shares in Imperial Brands fell 3.2% to their lowest since March 2022, while shares in BAT, which has a lower exposure to the British cigarette market, were down 1.2% by 1357 GMT.

A risk for all companies is that other nations follow suit, Bennett noted. Denmark is already considering a similar move, and a number of nations also have targets to reduce smoking to minimal levels in the relatively near future.

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