Prohibition 2.0

Think tank: Institute of Economic Affairs

Author(s): Christopher Snowdon

November 29, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs critiques the generational tobacco ban.

The UK government is proposing a generational ban on tobacco sales to anyone born after 2008, overturning the fundamental principle that adults should have autonomy over their own bodies. The generational ban will create absurd situations, such as a 28-year-old being deemed capable of purchasing tobacco, while a 27-year-old is not. The ban will drive a black market for tobacco, which will reduce government revenue and bolster criminal gangs. The likely trajectory of a generational tobacco ban is full prohibition across all age groups well before the legal smoking age encompasses the entire population. Bhutan’s tobacco prohibition, the only example in the modern era, led to smuggling and a flourishing black market while smoking among minors remained common. The government’s arguments for a ban, such as the preferences of smokers to quit and healthcare costs, do not stack up. In fact, a large number of smokers are not actively trying to quit while smokers contribute far more to the state through tobacco duty than smoking costs the NHS. The emergence of e-cigarettes and other reduced-risk nicotine products is steadily diminishing the public’s demand for traditional tobacco, rendering cigarettes increasingly redundant without the need for a ban.