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Smoking age should be raised each year until cigarettes fully banned: Govt. report

A report commissioned by the UK government recommends raising the legal smoking age each year in a bid to phase out tobacco use among young people.

If adopted, the measures would slot the UK among the most aggressive countries in trying to stamp out smoking, joining nations such as New Zealand, which plans a similar move, which will eventually become a blanket prohibition.

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The report, released Thursday, recommended that the minimum age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products should be increased from 18 by one year each year. Within several decades, nobody would be able to buy such products in the UK

As a dwindling minority of people in many countries smoke, governments around the world are getting increasingly stricter on smoking. Tobacco companies are racing to offer alternatives with vapes, devices that heat tobacco and oral nicotine.

The proposed changes are part of a goal to make the UK smoke-free by 2030. The country has endorsed cigarette smokers switching to vaping products, which some studies have shown are less harmful than burning tobacco.

The recommendations are part of a review by Javed Khan, former chief executive officer of Barnardo’s, a children’s charity. The project was commissioned by UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid. The report’s recommendations would have to be adopted into policy and law to become effective.

The proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds who smoke rose to one in three from one in four during the Covid pandemic, according to the report.

The report also said smokers in the most economically deprived parts of the UK devote a disproportionate amount of their income on tobacco, with the average smoker in northeast England devoting more than 10 percent of their income on smoking.

Shares of Imperial Brands Plc, the biggest seller of cigarettes in the UK, fell as much as two percent. British American Tobacco Plc dropped 1.1 percent.

The proposal could create a contraband market, according to BAT Chief Marketing Officer Kingsley Wheaton.

“You have to be very careful of the unintended consequences of such policy proposals driving a secondary black market in cigarette sales,” Wheaton said in a phone interview. “If you can vote in this country and decide who your government is going to be at 18, that’s an age of adulthood and an age of responsibility and you’re also able to make your choices about whether you choose to smoke or not.”

Other recommendations include more efforts to switch smokers to vaping, which the report said is likely less harmful than tobacco, including heated tobacco products offered by manufacturers including Philip Morris International.

“There’s some really positive stuff for us among the proposals,” Wheaton said, pointing to the report’s reference to using vaping products to help people quit smoking. More than 40 percent of BAT’s business in the UK is in non-combustible products.

Anti-smoking advocates urged the government to adopt even stricter controls.

“It’s no secret that smoking is bad for our health, but what is lesser known is it is also bad for our economy, said David Sinclair, director of the ILC,” a UK think tank that estimates if current or ex-smokers had never smoked, overall corporate earnings would be 1.9 percent higher, boosting the UK economy by £19.1 billion ($23.9 billion) every year.

Some 54 percent of people in a UK poll said they believe traditional cigarette smoking should be banned and smokers should be moved to vaping and other alternatives.

The survey was conducted by Techne UK for More women were in favor of a ban than men, the poll showed.

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Lindsay Lohan celebrates birthday as married woman to Dubai resident Bader Shammas

Actress Lindsay Lohan is celebrating her 36th birthday on Saturday as a married woman.

The “Freaky Friday” star said she was the “luckiest woman in the world” in an Instagram post Friday that pictured her with financier Bader Shammas, who had been her fiance.

“I am stunned that you are my husband,” Lohan said in the post, adding that “every woman should feel like this everyday.”

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The couple had announced their engagement last November. People magazine and Entertainment Tonight confirmed there had been a wedding, but no details were offered.

While still single a few years ago, Lohan told Entertainment Tonight that she was looking for “a smart businessman” and someone who doesn’t like the spotlight. Shammas’ Instagram account is private.

The “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” actress and sometimes singer has worked through some sobriety issues in recent years, and has recently filmed a romantic comedy that is due to be released on Netflix later this year.

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Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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