HomeBussinessUK duty-free tobacco business threat increases as anti-smoking proposals win House of...

UK duty-free tobacco business threat increases as anti-smoking proposals win House of Commons vote


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UK. Despite vociferous opposition within his own party ranks, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s proposed anti-smoking Tobacco and Vapes Bill was overwhelmingly endorsed in a House of Commons vote on Tuesday (16 April). The proposals have long-term negative repercussions for UK duty-free retailers if they are passed into law.

If passed, the draft legislation would make it an offence anywhere in the UK to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 – effectively raising the smoking age by a year each year until it applies to the whole population.

This goal aligns with the Prime Minister’s aim to create a ‘smoke-free’ generation. It has the potential to phase out smoking in young people almost completely as early as 2040, the government says. The current UK legal smoking age is 18.

The House of Commons voted in favour of the plan by 383 votes to 67, the first stage in the proposals becoming legislation. The matter now progresses to the stage of parliamentary debate, where it can be subject to amendment. MPs of the opposition Labour Party were compelled to vote in favour, while Conservative MPs had a free vote.

Click here to read the Tobacco and Vapes Bill

If the legislation is passed, the new rules will apply to all duty-free shops in the UK. However, anyone buying cigarettes abroad will still be able to bring them into the UK, provided they were legally acquired. The government aims to have the system in force by 2027.

UK Travel Retail Federation Secretary General and European Travel Retail Confederation President Nigel Keal told The Moodie Davitt Report: “The UK Travel Retail Forum supports policies focused on harm reduction. We welcome the opportunity to engage in the government’s consultation on the planned introduction of excise duties on vaping products and will be submitting a response on behalf of our members.”

That ban would be applied directly in England and Wales while existing age-of-sale legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland would be amended to the same effect.

The Bill would also make it an offence to sell non-nicotine vaping products to under-18s in England and Wales (clause 7). It would grant powers to Ministers in Northern Ireland to create similar regulations. In Scotland, it is already an offence to sell non-nicotine vaping products to under-18s.

Buying tobacco products in UK airports already feels like walking into a 1920s speakeasy. If the legislation is passed, it will become a legal offence to sell tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009 {Photo: World Duty Free, Heathrow Airport Terminal 3. Photo: Martin Moodie}
The new legislation would ultimately be another revenue hit for the UK duty-free industry, which is already battling the repercussions of the removal of tax-free shopping (World Duty Free at Birmingham Airport pictured)

The government states that smoking kills about 80,000 people a year in the UK and costs the NHS and the economy an estimated £17 billion (US$21.2 billion) annually.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss has spoken out against the proposed legislation, saying the bill would limit people’s freedom and warned of potential further bans on products such as alcohol and sugar. ✈

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