A wide-scale shake-up of the smoking and vaping laws in the United Kingdom is gathering pace after King Charles presided over his first State Opening of Parliament.
The proposed changes were officially announced during the King’s Speech, a traditional ceremony that includes the monarch reading the legislative priorities the Government intends to pursue in the forthcoming parliamentary session.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had already made clear his intention to push through changes to create a “smoke-free generation” during his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in October, where he announced the start of an 8-week public consultation period on the issues of smoking and vaping.
One of the biggest proposed changes is to make the current generation the last one that is legally allowed to smoke. To do that, the government plans to increase the legal age by a year every year. That would mean that someone now aged 14 or younger would never be legally able to purchase tobacco products.
The PM has previously stated that “Four in five smokers have started by the time they’re 20, the vast majority try to quit but many fail because they’re addicted and they wish they had never taken up the habit in the first place. If we could break that cycle – if we could stop the start – then we would be on our way to ending the biggest cause of preventable death and disease in our country.“
Vaping, and youth vaping in particular, has also come under the gaze of the government as a problem that requires action. Measures being considered for a vote in parliament include:
- Limiting vape flavors to menthol and tobacco
- Tighter controls over vape and liquid descriptions
- New plain packaging guidelines
- Banning disposables vapes
- Banning vape displays in stores
There is also concern that vaping is attractive to younger people because it is several times cheaper than smoking. In a step that would mimic one that has already been taken in several countries, most recently in the Canadian province of Ontario, a new tax on e-cigarettes has been proposed to make vaping more expensive.
The United Kingdom already follows TPD (Tobacco Products Directive) rules, which include fairly strict controls over the permitted strength of nicotine vape liquid, the liquid capacity of pod vapes and disposables, and the size of refill bottles allowed to be sold. Any new laws will be added to or in addition to the existing TDP legislation.
Reaction to the proposed changes has not been universally positive. Ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss has publicly stated that she will not be supporting the new laws, saying it’s time for the Conservatives to “stop banning things.”