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The Proposed Ban on Cigarettes: Are we just supplementing one issue for another?

Written by Chloe Ireland for the Open Articles Section.


With over 8 million active smokers in the UK, the nation faces a health crisis that is only being accelerated by the introduction of vaping. This article explores what the proposed legislation for a 'smoke free' generation will achieve, and whether it will provide the most accurate remedy to this problem.



Everyone will have heard of the King's speech on November 7th, 2023, and the topic I'd like to address is the proposed ban on the purchase of cigarettes. The proposed legislation will make it ‘an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products – effectively raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population.’ [1] This is being done with the aim to incrementally phase out cigarette smoking and create a ‘smoke free’ generation. [2]

 

This is a massive step in the protection of public health with 15% of cancer cases developing from smoking, varying from lung to stomach cancer.[3]  Not only will this reduce public health risk, but it will also benefit the NHS by reducing treatment expenses for smoking related diseases. It was estimated in 2015 that smoking has cost the NHS in England nearly £2.6 billion per year.[4] This included GP visits, prescriptions, smoking-attributable hospital admissions and a variety of other smoking related costs.

 

But are we doing enough?

 

In the King’s Speech, it was also stated that there would be a ‘further crack down on youth vaping’, including the ‘restricting of flavours and description of vapes so they are no longer targeted at children’ and ‘considering measures to restrict the sale and supply of disposable vapes (including considering prohibiting their sale).’[5] But without these being enforced alongside the ban on cigarette sales, what is really the benefit?

Considering that it will be the only available form of nicotine, a restriction on the purchase of cigarettes will only cause an increased wave in the number of vaping related illnesses. By going through the method of ‘regulating vape packaging and product presentation’ [6], surely are we not just mirroring the process used towards cigarette sales?

Under the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulation Act of 2015[7], the appearance of cigarettes was regulated stating factors like ‘The only colour or shade permitted on or for the external packaging of a unit packet or container packet of cigarettes is Pantone 448 C with a matt finish.’[8] The King’s Speech suggests that we may just be following the same guidelines with which we treated cigarettes, which ultimately has not been effective as evidenced by the costs to the NHS and the now resultant proposed ban on the sale of cigarettes.

 

The lack of sufficient restrictions on vaping may lead to increased vape-related illnesses and black-market cigarette sales, potentially saving the NHS money and reducing smoking. However, this could also increase criminal activity, requiring public funding to be reallocated to the police rather than the NHS.

 

So how effective will the proposed ban really be?

 

Shouldn't we address the issue of vaping with the same zeal, especially given its prevalence among young people? Whilst cigarette smoking has decreased, vaping rates amongst young people have surged, with 9% of 11-15 year olds currently using e-cigarettes.[9] To maximise public health benefits, the issue of vaping must be addressed to the same extent, otherwise a trade-off will be made of cigarette smoking-related illnesses for vape consumption-related illnesses; we will be no closer to addressing the issues that both cigarette smoking and vape smoking cause. To be entirely effective, smoking must be addressed in general, and therapeutic techniques must be used rather than leaving vapes "available for adult smokers to quit."[10]







References

[1] Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street and the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP ‘Prime Minister to create ‘smokefree generation’ by ending cigarette sales to those born on or after 1 January https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-to-create-smokefree-generation-by-ending-cigarette-sales-to-those-born-on-or-after-1-january-2009 accessed 8 November 2023

[2] Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street and the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP ‘Prime Minister to create ‘smokefree generation’ by ending cigarette sales to those born on or after 1 January https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-to-create-smokefree-generation-by-ending-cigarette-sales-to-those-born-on-or-after-1-january-2009 accessed 8 November 2023

[4] Public Health England, ‘Cost of Smoking to the NHS in England’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cost-of-smoking-to-the-nhs-in-england-2015/cost-of-smoking-to-the-nhs-in-england-2015 accessed 8 November 2023

[5] Prime Minister’s Office ‘The King’s Speech 2023’, page 41, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/654a21952f045e001214dcd7/The_King_s_Speech_background_briefing_notes.pdf accessed 8 November

[6] Ibid.

[7] SI 2015/829 Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015

[8] SI 2015/829 Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 Part 2 Provisions which Apply to Cigarettes Only, Section 3 Permitted Colour or Shade of Packaging of Cigarettes (2)

[9] NHS Digital, ‘Decrease in smoking and drug use among school children but increase in vaping, new report shows’, https://digital.nhs.uk/news/2022/decrease-in-smoking-and-drug-use-among-school-children-but-increase-in-vaping-new-report-shows accessed 8 November 2023

[10] Prime Minister’s Office ‘The King’s Speech 2023,’ page 41, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/654a21952f045e001214dcd7/The_King_s_Speech_background_briefing_notes.pdf accessed 8 November

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