Published on: 11,Jul 2024

Laura Williamson, Senior Policy Officer, Asthma + Lung UK

Smoking is the biggest cause of lung disease deaths in the UK, but its devastating impact stretches beyond the lungs – it also causes cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart failure – there is no part of the body that smoking does not harm. 12.9% of UK adults are current smokers, and it kills around 80,000 people a year. It is also responsible for half of the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society; a truly staggering statistic.


The ‘Tobacco and Vapes Bill’ was introduced earlier this year – this would have increased the age of sale of tobacco by one year every year, so that anyone born in or after 2009 would never be able to legally purchase cigarettes.


Asthma + Lung UK, along with the Richmond Group and the rest of the health sector, celebrated this legislation, but it didn’t make its way into law before the General Election was called. Now, the new Labour government has a key opportunity to reintroduce this bill and protect the next generation from this deadly addiction.


Labour have made some bold claims about wanting to improve the health of the UK population, with a focus on prevention – doing more to keep people healthy and out of hospital in order to reduce pressure on the NHS. Of all the policies that might do this, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill is vital.


Historically, bold policy to tackle smoking has been successful; interventions such as adding health warnings onto cigarette packets in 2003, and the ban on smoking in public places in 2007 were followed by significant drops in smoking prevalence. However, this decline has faltered, and the 2022 Khan review found that radical change was needed if we were going to achieve a smokefree 2030 [a national smoking rate of less than 5%].


This legislation – if reintroduced – has the potential to save lives by preventing incurable disease caused by smoking, and it will save the NHS billions of pounds that they spend on smoking-related illness every year. Not only this, but the annual cost of smoking to the economy is incredibly high – in 2023 it was calculated to amount to around £50 billion. The annual income generated by smoking through taxes comes in at just £10 billion, so the new government should see the cost-benefit of bringing this legislation back to life. If Labour want to reduce pressures on the NHS and improve the health of the UK population, getting this Bill into law should be a key priority for them.


We have been working hard to support this bill. We responded positively to the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation and our CEO, Sarah Sleet, provided expert oral evidence to the Bill committee, alongside fellow Richmond Group charities – British Heart Foundation and Age UK. We have had a great deal of media interest in this, garnering public support for this change, and our ‘Write to your MP’ e-action saw over 500 MPs receive letters from our supporters prompting them to support the progression of this bill.


Every organisation in the health sector should be advocating for this life changing legislation to come back – we, and the Richmond Group as a coalition, will continue fighting for this Bill as the new Labour government takes it seat in parliament.


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