The goal is to establish regulations that prevent individuals born after 2008 from legally purchasing tobacco products once they reach adulthood.
When addressing the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak unveiled his initiative to bring forth Britain's first cigar-free generation, and prevented young adults from commencing smoking.
Statistics show that the majority of smokers start smoking in their teenage years, with four out of five smokers starting before the age of 20. By raising the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21, the government hopes to prevent young people from starting this harmful habit in the first place.
The proposed change would only be applicable in England and would not extend to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is part of a broader effort by the government to reduce smoking rates and improve public health.
Currently, it is legal for citizens to buy cigarettes or tobacco products over the age of 18 in the U.K. This is in line with many countries around the world where the legal age for purchasing tobacco is 18 or 19.
The U.K. has made significant progress in reducing smoking rates over the years. According to the Associated Press, around 6.4 million people in the country, or about 13% of the population, smoke. This number has declined by two-thirds since the 1970s. However, smoking still remains one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease in the U.K.
Raising the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21 would align with trends seen in other countries. Increasing the minimum age limit for tobacco purchases to 21 has become a reality in a number of U.S. states, with California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Oregon being some of these. This modification has been known to be successful in diminishing smoking rates among adolescents.
Backers of the plan suggest that elevating the legal age for cigarettes would safeguard youth from the detrimental effects of smoking. The teenage years are a critical period for brain development, and nicotine addiction during this time can have long-lasting negative consequences.
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that it is not the government's role to dictate personal choices and that individuals should have the freedom to make their own decisions regarding tobacco use. They also question the effectiveness of such measures in reducing smoking rates.
The proposal to raise the legal age to buy cigarettes in England is currently under consideration by Parliament. If approved, it would be a significant step towards ending the cycle of smoking initiation and reducing the burden of smoking-related diseases in the country.