As delivered by Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP

[Please note: Political content has been redacted from this transcript.]

Declaration of Interest

Mr Deputy Speaker, before I start I should declare an interest: before I was elected to parliament, I used to prosecute serious organised crime including organised crime gangs that attempted to import illicit cigarettes.


I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.

For a moment, if I may Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to imagine that we are not sat in this historic and magnificent chamber, but we are instead standing at the entrance of a local hospital.

A patient comes through the doors, struggling to breathe. Smoking sent their asthma spiralling out of control. A minute later, another patient passes by. Smoking caused the heart disease they’re battling. A minute later, another person comes in, and then another.

This vicious cycle repeats itself, nearly every minute of every day in our national health system.

Because here in the United Kingdom, almost one hospital admission a minute is the human cost of smoking.

Smoking leaves people with premature dementia. It puts them in care, attached to oxygen for the rest of life. It increases the risk of stillbirth by almost 50 percent. It is responsible for 75,000 GP appointments every month and it takes around 80,000 lives every year.

Stopping the Start

Because there is no safe level of smoking, and no safe tobacco product. In fact, it is the only product that – if consumed as the manufacturer intends – it will kill two-thirds of its long-term users.

Now this Bill is not about demonising people who smoke or stopping them from buying tobacco if they are able to today.

It will not affect current smokers’ rights or entitlements in any way, and indeed we want to help them to quit. We are supporting them by almost doubling the funding for local stop-smoking services.

Instead, this Bill is looking to the future to give the next generation the freedom to live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

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The vast majority of smokers start when they are young, and three-quarters say that if they could turn back the clock, they would not have started.

That is why, through this Bill, we are creating a smokefree generation that will guarantee that no one who is turning 15 or younger this year will ever be legally sold tobacco, saving them from the misery of repeated attempts to give up, making our economy more productive, and building an NHS that delivers faster, simpler, and fairer care.

I would argue it is our responsibility, and indeed our duty, to protect the next generation and this is what this Bill will do.

Age of Sale and Black Market

The tobacco industry claims that there will be “unintended consequences” from raising the age of sale. They assert that the black market will boom.

Before the smoking age was increased from 16 to 18 they sang from the same hymn sheet.

But the facts, I’m afraid, showed otherwise.

The number of illicit cigarettes consumed fell by 25%, and smoking rates for 16 and 17-year-olds dropped by almost a third. Indeed, consumption of illegal tobacco has plummeted 17 billion cigarettes in 2000/2001 to 3 billion cigarettes consumed in 2022/2023.

This is despite, of course, the further controls that this house has placed in the meantime.

Indeed, our modelling suggests that the measures in this Bill will reduce smoking rates among 14 to 30-year-olds in England to close to zero as soon as 2040.

I hope there will be many of us in this chamber today who will still be here in 2040 and this is our opportunity to play that part in history.

Thanks to constructive engagement from colleagues across the Devolved Administrations, these measures will apply not just in England, but across our entire United Kingdom – saving lives and building a brighter future.

And having listened carefully to colleagues concerns around enforcement, we are making sure that local authorities will be able to keep every penny of the fixed penalties they bring in to reinvest in rigorous enforcement. In other words, we are looking not just at national enforcement but also helping our very very important and valuable local trading enforcement officers to keep the proceeds from those fixed penalties they hand out.  

Smoking Rates

The tobacco industry, as I have already said, questions the necessity of this Bill on the grounds that smoking rates are already falling. It is absolutely correct that smoking rates are down but as I have said there is nothing inevitable about that.

 Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death, disability, and ill health. In England alone, creating a smokefree generation could prevent almost half a million cases of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and other deadly diseases by the turn of the century – increasing thousands of people’s quality of life and reducing pressure on our NHS.

And indeed an independent review found that, if we stand by and do nothing, nearly half a million more people will die from smoking by the end of this decade.

So we must ask what place does this addiction have in our society, and we know that we are not the only ones asking this question of ourselves.

We know that our policy to create a smoke free generation is supported by the majority of retailers, and around 70% of the public.

Economic Case

Now I am going to turn to the economic case because the economic case for creating a smokefree generation, I believe, is also profound.

Each year, smoking costs our economy a minimum of £17 billion – far more than the £10 billion of tax revenue it attracts.

It costs the average smoker £2,500 a year – money they could spend on other goods and services, or put towards buying a new car or a new home.

It costs our entire economy, by stalling productivity and driving economic inactivity. So much so that the damage that smoking causes accounts for almost 7p in every £1 of income tax we pay.

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Having celebrated the first 75 years of the NHS last year, I am determined to reform the NHS to make it faster, simpler and fairer for the next 75 years – and part of this productivity work is to recognise that we must reduce the single most preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the UK.

This reform will benefit not just our children, but anyone who may be affected by passive smoking, and indeed future taxpayers’ whose hard earned income helps to fund our service. 

Today, we can take a historic step in this direction. Creating a smokefree generation could deliver productivity gains of £16 billion by 2056. It will prevent illness and promote good health, help people get into work, and drive economic growth. All whilst reducing pressure on the NHS.


I want to address the concerns on vaping. As any parent or teacher will know, there has been a dramatic and dangerous increase in youth vaping. At least 1 in 5 children have tried vaping.

Many will say the solution is simply to enforce the law, and of course that is a vital component which is why we are investing £30 million in our enforcement agencies and hitting cynical businesses that sell vapes to children with on-the-spot fines.

But we must, and we will, go further. Because vaping damages our children’s future.

It could damage their lungs whilst they’re still developing, intensify the long-term pressure on our NHS, and damage their concentration at schools. This is a point that many teachers have made.

We cannot replace one generation addicted to nicotine with another and vapes are cynically marketed towards our children.

They are sold at pocket money prices, they share shelf space with sweets, they’re branded with cartoon characters, and they are given flavours like cotton candy and watermelon ice.

Our children are being exploited and we cannot, and will not, let this continue.

That is why this Bill will give us powers to crack down on child friendly flavours and packaging, and to change the way vapes are displayed in shops – measures that we will consult on.

And through separate environmental legislation we are banning the disposable vapes that young people favour, and that do so much damage to our planet.

Some 5 million disposable vapes are thrown away either in bins or on our streets every single week and that is equivalent to some 5000 lithium car batteries of electric vehicles being thrown away every year – and so we have a responsibility, we argue, to tackle that harm perpetuated by the vaping industry on our planet.  

And to underline, vapes can be really helpful in assisting adult smokers to quit.

But our message remains clear: if you don’t smoke, don’t vape, and children should never vape.


So in conclusion Mr Deputy Speaker, we want to build a brighter future for our children and our grandchildren.

This means moving from the tossing sea of cause and theory to the firm ground of result and fact.

The result of this legislation will be to free future generations from the tyranny of addiction and ill health.

The facts include that parents are worrying about youth vaping – they want us to take on tobacco and vaping industries.

And the result and facts of this will save hundreds of thousands of lives, reduce pressure on our NHS, and increase millions of young people’s chances in life.

The decision we make today will stand the test of time and so for those many reasons, I commend this Bill to the House.

Published 16 April 2024