Cigarettes are to be banned for future generations in Britain. Should the U.S. follow?

Navy Veteran Richard Negrin is enveloped in smoke inside the smoke shack at Soldier On in Leeds, MA on Sep. 19, 2019. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A man is enveloped in smoke at Soldier On in Leeds, MA on Sep. 19, 2019. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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'The 360' shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What's happening?

  • Last year, New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce laws that would ban future generations from buying cigarettes. (The law doesn’t apply to vaping.) Called the world’s toughest anti-smoking laws, the legislation would raise the legal smoking age every year so that it would be outlawed for anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009. “Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives, and the health system will be $5 billion better off from not needing to treat the illnesses caused by smoking, such as numerous types of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, amputations,” Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said.

  • In recent weeks, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to follow New Zealand in creating a smoke-free future. Last month, Sunak said the government would introduce legislation that would phase out the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products for the next generation. The ban would not extend to vapes; however, harsher restrictions are expected to be implemented. King Charles III backed the Conservative government’s decision in his speech to the reopening of Parliament. Sunak celebrated the bill, stating that “a 14-year-old today will never have the opportunity to legally purchase cigarettes.”

Why there’s debate

  • “A lot of people start smoking early in life and have trouble quitting later because it's been addictive” and so from a public health perspective, “preventing youth access to tobacco products is desirable,” Ross Hammond, the director of the Center on Social Dynamics and Policy at the Brookings Institution, told Yahoo News.

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking is responsible for the premature deaths of around 8 million people around the world every year. An additional 1.3 million people die every year from being exposed to secondhand smoke. “The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced,” the WHO said in July.

  • Although the smoking rates in the U.S. have declined in the past two decades — in 2005, nearly 21% of U.S. adults smoked compared to just 12% in 2021 — it kills an estimated 480,000 Americans per year.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking remains the leading cause of “preventable disease, disability, and death” in the U.S.

What’s next?


Freedom of choice is a birthright

“Our Declaration of Independence, the first founding principle of the country, says that we are free, and we have the right to these three birth rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now they’re trying to overturn those basic principles. Public health is all around us to enhance safety, but not to take away the activity.” — Carl Hart, neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Columbia University, to the Guardian

Prohibition does not work

“Raising the age of sale of tobacco is creeping prohibition, but it won’t stop young people smoking because prohibition doesn’t work. Anyone who wants to smoke will buy tobacco abroad or from illicit sources. This is the opposite of leveling up, it’s dumbing down.” — Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST), Independent.

People should be able to express agency

“Defending the right to smoke matters. Not because smoking is a good or sensible thing to do, but because adults should be allowed to make decisions that are neither good nor sensible.” — Ella Whelan, Telegraph

Ban is step forward in public health

“This could be the game changer we’re looking for to tackle smoking — an incredibly positive step forward — and protect the next generation from lung conditions caused by this deadly addiction.” — Sarah Woolnough, Guardian.

Banning menthol cigarettes will stop future generations from smoking

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit.” — Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, in a statement.

It won’t happen on a federal level

“I think people would consider it an infringement on their civil liberties. I think that people would push back on it. There's only so much government regulation that Americans will take and I think for a lot of Americans, that would be sort of a step too far.”Patricia Crouse, professor of political science and public administration at the University of New Haven, to Yahoo News

Menthols should have been banned since 2009

“The law passed in 2009 and we’re here in 2023, 14 years later, so while we worked very closely with FDA on this issue, we’re pretty unhappy that they’ve taken such a long time to get this done,” President and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Yolonda Richardson, to CNN