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    UK has lowest smoking rate despite Sunak’s ‘bizarre’ tobacco ban

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    Rishi Sunak’s tobacco ban is “preposterous”, “unenforceable” and “bizarre”, Sir John Hayes has said, after a recent report stated that Britain already has lowest smoking rates owing to some of the toughest laws and highest taxes on cigarettes in Europe.

    According to a recent report, UK already leads Europe on breaking habit even without tighter restrictions proposed by Sunak. The Telegraph stated that an analysis shows that Britain was slowly winning the war on the habit when MPs agreed to the annual increase to the minimum legal age to buy tobacco.

     Hayes, the chairman of the Common Sense Group of backbench MPs, said the ban was “preposterous”, “unenforceable” and “bizarre”.

    “There’s a ludicrous quality to it,” he said. “Can you really imagine someone of 49 being challenged for their birth certificate to make sure they are 49 and not 48?” 

    Sir John, who abstained in the vote, said it was “good news” that fewer people were smoking and dying from smoking-related illnesses.

    He said the law should focus on the “explosion” of vaping in children and the sale of black market tobacco.

     UK was estimated to have the lowest smoking rates in Europe after Iceland, with 14.2 per cent of the population being smokers, according to the World Health Organisation.

    In France and Germany, it is 34.6 and 21.6 per cent, while in Bulgaria and Serbia it is 39.5 per cent. The figures are adjusted to ensure age profiles are similar across all countries to give a clearer sense of prevalence.

    There had been a 23.4 per cent drop in the number of smokers from 37.6 to 14.2 per cent of the population from 2000 to 2022, which was the fourth highest decrease in Europe after Norway, Austria and Sweden.

    Additionally, no other Western European country has seen the price of cigarettes rise so steeply as in Britain, which is one reason smoking levels have dropped, according to price inflation data.

    Since 2009, prices have soared by 177 per cent. In France, they have risen almost as much by 151 per cent, while in Poland they rose by 126 per cent, stated the report, adding that after Jeremy Hunt’s recent Spring Budget , the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes will top £16.

    Anti-smoking rules in the UK are among Europe’s strictest, with only Sweden having tougher regulations.

    Using data from Smoke Free Partnership, the anti-smoking charity, the UK ranks joint second when looking at the stringency and compliance of rules already in effect.

    Simon Clark, the director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, said, “With smoking rates at their lowest recorded levels in all age groups in the UK, banning the sale of tobacco to future generations of adults makes very little sense.

    “The desire to intervene, regulate and accelerate change must be challenged because not only is it unnecessary, it’s illiberal, divisive, and potentially counterproductive,” he added.

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