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Effy smoking in SkinsE4/ Skins

The UK government bans smoking for people born after 2009

The legal age at which you can buy cigarettes will soon start increasing by one year every year. Will this make the habit more cool – or kill it off forever?

Bad news if you are a 14-year-old who has always dreamed of taking up smoking: thanks to a new law passed by the government yesterday, the legal age at which you can buy cigarettes – currently set at 18 – is going to increase by one year every year. 

Smoking itself won’t be illegal for this demographic, and they’ll still be able to purchase cigarettes abroad and bring them back. But they will never be able to buy them legally in the UK. This means that in ten years, a generation of people will have to endure the indignity of being 24 years old and still having to beg their 25-year-old friends to go into the shop for them. In 50 years, pensioners with grey hair and visible wrinkles will be forced to buy fake IDs on the dark web or steal their older sibling’s passports (and any shopkeeper who serves them will be at risk of a several thousand pound fine).

On the other hand – and this is the government’s rationale – people may just stop smoking altogether. The last century has proven that if you make a substance illegal, people stop doing it: it’s not like anyone still uses cannabis, MDMA or cocaine. No one – and especially not teenagers – thinks that breaking the law is “cool”.

But smoking rates in the UK have already been on the decline for some time, and maybe this could be the final nail in the coffin. At the risk of stating the obvious, smoking is extremely bad for you, and it’s hard to find someone who regrets not having become addicted at an early age. 

I started smoking when I was horrifically young and – in hindsight – I would rather the option hadn’t been there. While, as a teenager, I actively went out of my way to purchase a variety of illicit substances, I’m not sure I’d have made the same effort for cigarettes, which, while highly addictive, don’t really do anything; smoking is not an activity in and of itself; it’s not the basis of a night out. 

If it becomes harder, more complicated and expensive to buy fags, plenty of young people probably won’t bother – which, considering the high risk of developing lung cancer, among many other health issues – can only be a positive. It might be painful to admit that a Tory government might have made the right decision, but we can take some comfort in knowing this is a dark day for big corporations who profiteer off addiction, sickness and death. 

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