The decision by our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak to introduce new laws to stop the next generation of young people from starting to smoke, will save hundreds of thousands of lives, and represents the single biggest public step forward in British public health law for a generation. The aim is to create modern Britain’s first smoke free generation.

As a practising NHS hospital doctor and as an MP, I believe it is the duty of every Government to improve the health of the nation. When I was Minister for Child Health, I was proud to have helped to introduce new laws to ban smoking in cars with children.

Unfortunately, when I last felt compelled to speak out about Government smoking and public health policy, things were very different and had taken a turn for the worse. I needed to be critical and feared that my intervention could result in one of my parliamentary colleagues stubbing out their cigar on my shirt. But things are very different now, it is a good thing that our Prime Minister has made the health of our children and grandchildren one of his biggest priorities.

It is important to get one thing clear, smoking kills. Plain and simple. It is the leading cause of many types of cancer and acquired lung diseases. All too often, as a doctor, I have seen first-hand the reduction in healthy life years caused by smoking. We also know that children are four times as likely to start smoking if they grow up with smokers, and once they do it is highly addictive and difficult to quit.

Smoking has become responsible for around 60,000 deaths from cancer every year. It places huge pressure on the NHS, with almost one hospital admission every minute attributable to smoking and up to 75,000 GP appointments each month taken up by smoking-related illness. Research carried out by the NHS has shown that in 2019/20 there were approximately two million hospital admissions with a disease highly likely to have been caused by smoking.

The independent public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has provided a figure for 2021 showing that smoking in England has an eye-watering societal cost of £17 billion. This estimate included £2.4 billion in NHS costs and a further £1.2 billion in social care costs. Then there are the economic costs of lost productivity at work due to increased sick days, smoking breaks at work and the societal costs of premature morbidity and mortality.

Smoking is also the main driver of health inequalities across the country. Sadly, deaths from smoking are more than two times higher in the most deprived parts of Suffolk, where more people smoke, compared to our wealthier areas. In simple terms, smoking destroys lives.

So, I am pleased that this government will shortly be introducing an essential and historic new law which will prevent children who turn 14 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes when they turn 18.

The new law will be taking a phased approach, making it an offence for anyone born on or after January 1, 2009 to be sold tobacco products. Rather than immediately criminalising smoking, this means we will be raising the smoking age by a year, each and every year, until it applies to the whole population. This has the potential to phase out smoking in the next generation of young adults, almost completely, as early as 2040. But if the government fails to act, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to die from smoking related diseases.

By 2075, up to 1.7 million fewer people in our country will be smoking. The health and care system will save billions of pounds and the economy will be boosted by up to £85 billion by the creation of a healthier nation. Vast numbers of strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and other lung diseases will be avoided, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved.

What about the illegal supply of tobacco products? The main demand for illegal (black market) tobacco is driven by those already addicted to smoking seeking a cheaper alternative. Stopping the supply of cigarettes by making it illegal to sell tobacco to people who are underage will make it very difficult for someone to begin smoking in the first place. Therefore, we shall be significantly reducing the number of smokers, reducing the burden on NHS and saving many lives.

No parent ever wants their child to start the deadly habit of smoking. Becoming addicted to cigarettes in early life is one of the worst things that can happen for future health. The government is now giving parents the support and backing they need to ensure a healthier and smoke free future for their children. We are building a better and brighter future for our children and grandchildren by stamping out smoking for good. These changes will mean they will never be able to buy a cigarette, preventing them getting hooked and protecting their health.

As a practising doctor working in the NHS and an MP, I am proud that the government is taking necessary and robust action in the battle to stop England smoking. This game changing plan will make for a healthier country and allow our children and grandchildren to have a much better chance of leading long and healthy lives.

Dr Dan Poulter is Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich