End of the cigarette? Labour unveil plan to wipe out smoking by 2030 by banning sale of tobacco

9 January 2023, 09:34 | Updated: 9 January 2023, 11:16

Young people will not be allowed to buy cigarettes.
Labour says it will consider a complete ban if it wins the next general election. Picture: Alamy

By James Hockaday

The sale of cigarettes could be phased out if Labour win the next general election, in a bid to improve public health and ease pressure on the NHS.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the party will consult on a package of measures, including a New Zealand-style gradual ban on tobacco.

The government in Wellington introduced a law last year to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes every year, meaning anyone born after 2008 is effectively banned.

Labour could take similar measures if they get to form a government, with the aim of stamping out a dirty habit that costs the NHS billions each year.

The Government target of getting the adult smoking rate down to 5% or under in England by 2030 is widely expected to be missed without drastic action.

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A burning cigarette
New Zealand has already introduced a gradual ban on people buying cigarettes. Picture: PA

Appearing on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, Mr Streeting said one of the things recommended to the government in one of its reviews was phasing out cigarette sales altogether over time.

The shadow health secretary said: “We’ll be consulting on that and a whole range of other measures. The New Zealand government are doing it. We want to see how that works. But I’m genuinely curious.

"If we’re going to get the NHS back on track we also need to focus on public health. And I’m curious to know where the voters are on this, where the country is and what appetite exists for change.

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“So we’re going to… have to think radically. What the Government have done to the NHS is a disgrace. It’s going to take time to fix it and fresh radical thinking and that’s what Labour’s about.”

The Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) charity, which estimates that smoking costs the NHS £2.4 billion and a further £1.2 billion for social care, said Mr Streeting was “absolutely right” to focus on improving public health.

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Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Tackling smoking is key as it is still a leading cause of premature death and disease, responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor.”

“Ash supports a consultation on raising the age of sale, but also on how it should be achieved. The New Zealand option is one model, but another, easier to implement and widely supported by the majority of the public and tobacco retailers too is to raise the age of sale to 21. Both options should be consulted on.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting And By-Election Candidate Sam Dixon Meet Nursing Students
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting says "radical" action is needed to fix the NHS. . Picture: Getty

However, the plans were criticised by smoking group Forest, which acknowledges receiving support from tobacco giants.

Director Simon Clark said: “Banning the sale of cigarettes to future generations won’t stop people smoking. It would merely drive the sale of tobacco underground and into the hands of criminal gangs.

“Given all the problems facing the NHS and the country at large, it’s laughable to think that tackling smoking might be considered a priority for a future Labour government.”