Published on: 20 March 2024

Fresh has welcomed a crucial first step in Parliament to make smoking history for the next generation.

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which was today, Wednesday, March 20, laid before the House of Commons, raises the age of sale for all tobacco products one year every year from 2027 onwards.

This means tobacco can never be legally sold to anyone born or after 1st January 2009, aged 15 or younger this year.

Analysis for Action on Smoking Health (AS) by UCL researchers suggests that around 127,500 young adults aged between 18 and 25 start smoking regularly each year in the UK.

Raising the age of sale from 2027 will come into force once the Bill is passed as will new fixed penalty fines of £100 for selling cigarettes or vapes to children.

Over 50 organisations from the North East submitted responses in a consultation in 2023 – from fire and rescue, local authorities and NHS Trusts to the Association of Directors of Public Health North East and the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board.

Tobacco smoking is the biggest cause of ill health, disability and death in the country – causing 64,000 deaths in England and over 117,000 deaths in the North East since the year 2000.

No other product kills up to 2/3 of its users, most of whom (83%) start as teenagers.

Each year smoking year kills more people than COVID did at the height of the pandemic.

In the North East, 73% of adults support the proposals to raise the age of sale by a year each year and the policy also enjoys cross party support.

Ailsa Rutter, OBE Director of Fresh and Balance, said:

"The next few weeks will give Parliamentarians a huge opportunity to prevent the largest cause of cancer, stop the start of young smokers and create a better life free of addiction for our children. This will be a significant moment to transform the nation’s health and ease a massive pressure on our NHS and economy.

"There is huge public support for a smokefree generation – and no wonder when most smokers get hooked on a cancer-causing addiction that they bitterly regret, which costs them tens of thousands of pounds over a lifetime, and ends up killing 2 out of 3.

"The voice of the North East public and many partners were pivotal in 2006 of achieving the passage of the smoke free law before it was introduced in 2007 and it is now one of the most popular laws in recent memory. Once again this region has delivered a loud message to the government that we can create a better future without the harm of tobacco."

Former smoker Sue Mountain has undergone treatment three times for laryngeal cancer as a result of smoking.

She said:

"When I look back at my decades smoking, I could have bought a house with what I spent on tobacco – rather than getting cancer.

"I started smoking as a kid, before I realised how addictive it was. Nobody who starts smoking young ever thinks they’ll smoke for life. It might not prevent everyone starting to smoke, but it will stop a lot of people and save them from dying needlessly early.

"The main thing is the government is saying enough is enough and now our MPs need to make this happen. This is all about a better life for our children and grandchildren."

Amanda Healy, Durham County Council’s Director of Public Health and Chair of the Association of Directors of Public Health North East Network, said:

"The response from local authorities, NHS trusts and many other organisations and individuals to create a smokefree generation has been overwhelming. Smoking now costs our region £2.5bn a year – a cost not just felt by families but to our economy, local authority social care budgets and to the NHS.

"The North East has seen the biggest fall in smoking in England in the last two decades, but for generations saw the worst outcomes from diseases like lung cancer and COPD and the impact in our communities with people left disabled or dying too early from smoking.

"There are very few families who haven’t seen a loved one suffer because of smoking…that is why people don’t want that for their children or grandchildren."

Cathy Hunt, 57, is a mum of four from County Durham. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and had half a lung removed in 2015 just two days before her 50th birthday.

She underwent surgery again in 2022 when the cancer returned, and in June this year had a kidney removed due to cancer.

Cathy said:

"Too many people are becoming ill and dying from smoking. For me it was only when I found out I had cancer that I stopped smoking, and even then quitting was the best thing I could do. But this is exactly why you need action to help people stop and not start in the first place…to stop more people getting that to that awful stage.

"I am absolutely over the moon that they are planning to raise the age of sale for tobacco. It is vital we protect our children from the harm cigarettes cause.”

 Neil O’Brien, Executive Medical Director for North East North Cumbria NHS ICB, said:

"Smoking is still our key driver of health inequalities and the many illnesses smoking causes puts a significant pressure every day on our NHS. As a GP I see first-hand the devastating effects smoking has on the health of my patients and the impact it also has on their loved ones too.

"We know that if we reduce smoking even further, we will not only enable people to live longer healthier lives, but it will have a massive and positive knock-on impact on our regional economy, which in turn will benefit the physical and mental health of our communities too."

Dr Ruth Sharrock, a respiratory consultant and Clinical Lead for Tobacco for the North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care Board, said:

"Nobody wants our children to become the next generation of adults with smoking-related illnesses on our hospital wards. This provides us with a once-in-a-generation chance to make a difference to young people and enable them to have a life without the addiction, cost and diseases caused by tobacco.

"This is about saying the harm and the heartbreak which doctors like myself see every single day on our wards has to stop here."