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Britain wants to phase out tobacco sales — starting with teenagers

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world has just passed its first hurdle in the U.K. Parliament. Britain wants to phase out tobacco sales, starting with teenagers. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from London.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The ayes to the right - 383. The nos to the left - 67. So the ayes have it. The ayes have it.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It sailed through Parliament last night, a bill that will make it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after January 1, 2009. That means current 15-year-olds would never be able to buy cigarettes or any other tobacco products, even as adults. The current law bans sales to anyone under 18. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.K., and Health Secretary Victoria Atkins says the goal is to create the first smoke-free generation.

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VICTORIA ATKINS: This bill is looking to the future, to give the next generation the freedom to live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

FRAYER: If and when this law takes effect - it still faces several more votes - the legal age for tobacco sales would rise by one year every year until they're eventually illegal for the entire population. The law also regulates the flavors and packaging of vapes to make them less appealing to minors. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is ailing in the polls ahead of an election this fall, and he wants this law to be part of his legacy. But some of the no votes were actually cast by more libertarian-minded members of Sunak's own Conservative Party, including his predecessor Liz Truss, who told Parliament her constituents don't want the, quote, "health police."

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LIZ TRUSS: They want to be able to make their own decisions about what they eat, what they drink and how they enjoy themselves.

FRAYER: But with widespread support here, a tobacco ban is all but guaranteed to become U.K. law, possibly as soon as the end of the year.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "THE BEAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.