UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is considering imposing some of the world's toughest anti-smoking measures, which would effectively ban the next generation from buying cigarettes.
The Prime Minister is looking at anti-smoking measures similar to those New Zealand announced last year. They involve gradually raising the legal smoking age to ban selling tobacco to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.
Downing Street did not deny he was considering bringing in the measures, which were first reported in The Guardian.
“Smoking is a deadly habit, it kills tens of thousands of people each year and places a huge burden on the NHS and the economy,” said a UK Government representative.
“We want to encourage more people to quit and meet our ambition to be smoke-free by 2030, which is why we have already taken steps to reduce smoking rates.”
Recent research from Japan suggested people should be barred from buying tobacco products until they are 22, with those who start smoking before the age of 20 finding it more difficult to quit.
The UK’s proposals come as France plans to ban disposable vapes to prevent young people from taking up smoking while US regulators are taking action to tackle the rise of flavoured, disposable e-cigarettes.
Last year a major review led by Dr Javed Khan backed England following in the footsteps of New Zealand.
In his government-commissioned report, Dr Khan said that without urgent action, England would miss the 2030 target by at least seven years, with the poorest areas not meeting it until 2044.
He put the annual cost to society of smoking at about £1.7 billion to £2.4 billion ($2 billion to $2.9 billion) to the NHS alone.
Dr Khan recommended “increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country”.
If implemented by 2026, it would mean anyone aged 15 and under now would never be able to buy a cigarette.
The legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products in England and Wales is 18, having been raised from 16 in 2007 by the previous Labour government.
Campaigners suggested Friday's report indicates a new direction from the Conservative government.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking & Health, said raising the legally permitted age for tobacco use had delivered results in other countries.
“Smoking is highly addictive and only one in three smokers quit before they die, taking on average 30 attempts before they succeed,” she said.
“If the Government is serious about making England smoke-free by 2030, it needs to reduce youth uptake as well as help adult smokers quit.
“Ash strongly supports raising the age of sale, it has worked well in the US and is popular with the public.”
But smokers-rights group Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, said the move was anti-Conservative and would not stop people from smoking.
Director Simon Clark said a ban would “will simply drive the sale of cigarettes underground and into the hands of criminal gangs”.
“Treating adults like children by denying them the right to buy cigarettes legally would take the nanny state to another level.
“Smoking rates have been falling for decades. The idea that any government would prioritise tackling smoking at a time when the country faces far more important challenges at home and abroad is frankly obscene.”