In October 2023 the UK government proposed new legislation that would ban future generations of adults from ever legally being sold tobacco products. The ‘Generational Ban’ proposal is an experimental policy not supported by evidence. The Government of New Zealand, which passed, but has not yet implemented, similar legislation earlier in 2023, acknowledged as much in the corresponding Departmental Disclosure Statement, stating that the policy has not been “tested or assessed in any way to ensure [the policy is] workable and complete”.
If passed into law, the smoking age would rise by one year every year, with the aim of eventually banning smoking altogether.
This legislation will affect all retailers that sell tobacco products in the UK, so it is imperative to take the time now to understand the proposed changes, what this means for your business and how you can have your say.
What is the proposed legislation?
The proposed legislation would see the minimum age at which a person can be sold tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and heated tobacco, increase each year, starting in 2027. This means that the minimum smoking age in 2027 would be 19, rising to 20 in 2028, with one year added each subsequent year that passes. Therefore, anyone born on or after 1st January 2009 will never legally be allowed to be sold tobacco products.
What does this actually mean?
By 2037, 28-year-olds won’t be able to buy tobacco products, but 29-year-olds will. Retailers will be expected to distinguish this difference when deciding whom to sell tobacco products to. The UK Government, Scotland, Wales and NI will also make it an offence for anyone at or over the legal age to purchase tobacco products on behalf of someone born on or after 1 January 2009 (‘proxy purchasing’).
What are the key dates?
The Government’s ‘Smokefree Consultation’ began on 12th October and runs for eight weeks.
- 12th October 2023 Smokefree Consultation opened
- 6th December 2023 Consultation period closes
- Early 2024 Legislation could be published in Parliament
Retailer viewpoint on the proposed legislation
Impossible to enforce
Atul Sodha, owner of Londis Harefield, Uxbridge, said: “It’s difficult to see how this proposed tobacco ban would be properly enforced. It’s a deeply impractical law, which means at some point retailers will be expected to distinguish between 33 and 34-year-olds when deciding who to sell tobacco products to. An increase in ID checks will likely slow down transactions instore which can lead to frustrated customers.”
Rise in an already burgeoning illegal trade problem
Nishi Patel, owner of Londis Bexley Park, said: “We’re already battling a growing illicit tobacco problem across the country, and I have no doubt that this ban would simply hand more of the UK tobacco market into the hands of criminals. Smuggled tobacco already costs law-abiding retailers thousands of pounds as smokers switch to cheaper, un-taxed and un-regulated illegal products. The police and Trading Standards would need significant additional support to ensure both the ban is enforced and to keep a lid on illicit trade.”
A slippery slope to other products
Kay Patel, owner of Best-One Wanstead, said: “It is almost certain that a generational tobacco ban will in turn lead to an associated generational vaping ban, as the Government only recognises vaping as a smoking cessation device. Taking this further the proposed generational ban could be a slippery slope to more draconian legislation around the sales of alcohol as well. It could set a dangerous precedent, which would have a huge knock-on effect on the livelihoods of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses at the heart of their local communities.”
Concerns of increased crime and violence
Paul Cheema, owner of Malcolm’s Convenience and Forecourt, Coventry, said: “The proposed tobacco ban will hit convenience retailers the hardest. We know from recent reports, and our own experiences, that violence or abuse towards shopkeepers is on the rise, with ID checks or refusal of sale often a common cause of this. It’s fair to say that the proposed ban would highly likely exacerbate this issue and drive a further increase in threatening behaviour against retailers.”
How can I take action?
Retailers are listed as one of the groups from whom the Government want to hear from in the consultation – “the retail sector and the independent vaping industry”.
What should I do now?
For now, it’s business as usual, with no decision made on whether the legislation will be passed or not. Retailers should continue to sell tobacco products as normal to keep profiting from the category.