U.K. Doctors Vote to Ban Cigarettes for Anyone Born After 2000

If the British Medical Association influences Parliament, current 14-year-olds will never be able to buy a pack of smokes. Ever.

(Photo: Steve Wanke/Getty Images)

Jun 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

If the British Medical Association gets its way, puffing on a cancer stick will soon become a thing of the past. On Tuesday, the group passed a motion demanding that the U.K. government enact a permanent ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after the year 2000.

Someone born in 2000 is now 14, a vulnerable age for picking up the habit. “Eighty percent of smokers start as teenagers as a result of intense peer pressure,” London-based doctor and public health researcher Tim Crocker-Buqué said in his remarks at the association’s annual meeting. “Smokers who start smoking at age 15 are three times as likely to die of smoking-related cancer as someone who starts in their mid-20s.”

The antismoking doctor said that research has found that two-thirds of smokers wish they could stop lighting up, and nine out of 10 wish they’d never gotten hooked on cigarettes in the first place. Crocker-Buqué also cited World Health Organization statistics that smoking tobacco caused 100 million deaths around the world during the 20th century. Unless the habit is curbed, we could see 1 billion deaths from it during this century.

“The level of harm caused by smoking is unconscionable,” said Crocker-Buqué.

The association’s suggested ban would be enforced as current teenagers age into adulthood. Fifty years from now, when those born in 2000 are 64, they still wouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes. At least, not legally.

That’s exactly the concern expressed by medical student Adrianna Klejnotowska. As with anything purchased on the black market, the consumer won’t know how pure the illegally obtained cigarettes are. The tobacco could be laced with other harmful and addictive substances. “The potential health risks of those may be even greater than those of legal cigarettes,” she said at the meeting.

Instead of the ban, Klejnotowska wants the government to boost cigarette taxes—fewer people will smoke if purchasing cigarettes breaks the bank. The funds from those taxes could then be used to treat British citizens suffering from lung cancer, said Klejnotowska.

However, Crocker-Buqué said the goal isn’t to “instantly prevent all people from smoking.” Instead, the association believes it will “de-normalize cigarette smoking.”

Can this motion from the British Medical Association turn into an actual law? It’s possible. The U.K.’s prohibitions on smoking in public and in cars where children are present have their roots in similar antismoking proposals from the organization that trickled up to Parliament in 2003 and 2011.

If the prohibition becomes the law of the land, and if current smokers keep dying at current rates—and teens don’t start puffing illegally—the association predicts that by 2035, Britain could be completely smoke-free.

Big tobacco has yet to make any official statement on the association’s proposed ban. After all, it’s not like the world’s cigarette manufacturers can claim that smoking doesn’t kill, or that teens should be exposed to their product. However, advocates of individual freedoms are sure to speak up against the doctor’s proposal. Their common argument that adults should have the right to choose to smoke falls flat with Director of Public Health Stephen Watkins. “Addiction is the real affront to liberty,” said Watkins.