Revealed: Photo of Rishi Sunak stood with students in American university jumpers was taken in Cornwall and not photoshopped

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Revealed: Photo of Rishi Sunak stood with students in American university jumpers was taken in Cornwall and not photoshopped

  • Rishi Sunak declared plans to phase out the sale of cigarettes at Tory conference
  • He posted a campaign photo with students wearing US university jumpers
  • Several people claimed that the photo was fake but it has proven to be real 

An image of Rishi Sunak posing with students wearing American university jumpers was taken in Cornwall this year and has not been photoshopped, it has been revealed. 

The Prime Minister was accused by several social media users of editing a photo of himself with a group of teenagers in a promotional poster for his campaign to ban smoking.

On the final day of the annual Tory conference in Manchester yesterday, Mr Sunak announced plans to increase the legal smoking age annually in a bid to try and stop teenagers ever taking up cigarettes in the first place.

His plans would see the legal age for buying tobacco rise every year from 2009, meaning a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette under proposed legislation for England. 

The PM also revealed his plans through his official X account – but many claimed that he had posted a photoshopped image of himself with three teenage boys – two of which are wearing jumpers of US universities: the University of Kentucky and Purdue University.

After facing a backlash online, it has now emerged that the photo was actually taken during a visit to Truro and Penwith College in Cornwall earlier this year. An unedited version of the image was posted to Flickr by the Tory party on February 9. 

Revealed: Photo of Rishi Sunak stood with students in American university jumpers was taken in Cornwall and not photoshopped

But it has now been revealed that the photo was taken during a trip to Cornwall earlier this year. The two teenagers wearing the jumpers can be seen on the left

There is also another photo where Mr Sunak can be seen chatting with the same two teenagers. 

Mr Sunak has been visiting the college with his wife Akshata Murthy to speak with students about technology and engineering courses in Cornwall. He also launched his £200million Best Start for Life Programme to mark National Apprenticeship Week.

After posting his anti-smoking campaign yesterday, social media users claimed Mr Sunak has been edited into a photograph with American teenagers. Others claimed an image search for UK teenagers brought up a photo of University of Kentucky (UK) teens.

One X user said: ‘Photoshopping yourself into a stock image of some American teenagers makes you seem even less genuine, amazingly.’

Another added: ‘For his smoking campaign, Sunak had himself photoshopped with students from the University of Kentucky…what?

‘Somebody searched ‘UK students’ and used the first pic they found, didn’t they?’

A third posted: ‘Mate you need to tell your photoshop team to bear in mind that when they search for stock images, ‘UK’ also stands for University of Kentucky.’ 

A fourth added: ‘Oh wow, even his photos are made up nonsense. It’s so amateurish it’s not even funny.’

But it has now emerged that the Prime Minister was using a completely legitimate photo to launch his anti-smoking campaign.

Several social media users were convinced that the photo had been photoshopped by Mr Sunak's team

In the post, Mr Sunak said: ‘In the UK smoking causes 1 in 4 cancer deaths. So I’m proposing changing the law so children turning 14 or younger this year can never legally be sold cigarettes in their lifetime. A smoke-free generation. None of us want our children to grow up to smoke. 


2004: Ireland bans smoking in enclosed public places, including pubs, clubs and restaurants 

2006: Scotland implements smoking ban on indoor public spaces

2007: England, Wales and Northern Ireland bring in indoor ban. In England, smoking is banned in almost all enclosed public spaces and the NHS goes smoke-free. Legal age to buy cigarettes raised from 16 to 18

2008: Cigarette companies told to feature pictorial health warnings on packets

2010: Government announces it will enforce tobacco display ban and consider plain packaging for tobacco products

2015: Smoking in cars with children banned in England and ban on the display of tobacco in small shops comes into force throughout the UK

2017: Government issues target to reduce smoking prevalence among adults to 12 per cent or less by 2022

2019: Department of Health publishes plans to make England smoke-free by 2030

2020: Menthol cigarettes are banned in the UK and EU


He added: ‘Smoking is the number one preventable cause of ill health causing 64,000 deaths a year in England. It puts a huge burden on the NHS, and costs the country £17 billion a year. We know more than four in five smokers start before the age of 20. We need to stop the start.’

In a series of tweets, the PM continued: ‘Meanwhile as any parent or teacher knows the rise in vaping among children is a worrying trend. So we’ll also bring forward measures to restrict the availability of vapes to our children. We’ll look at flavours, packaging, point-of-sale displays as well as disposable vapes. 

‘We will not criminalise smoking – nor will anyone who can legally be sold cigarettes today be prevented from doing so in the future. But we have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter and significantly ease huge pressures on the NHS. We should take it.’

Despite the plans being hailed by health campaigners, the proposals have also been branded ‘ludicrous’, ‘illiberal’ and ‘anti-conservative’ by critics of state intervention on people’s freedoms, while a smoker’s group labelled the crackdown ‘creeping prohibition’. 

Former PM Liz Truss – who this week demanded the Tories to ‘stop taxing and banning things’ – is set to vote against Mr Sunak’s plans when he offers a free vote to MPs on the issue in the House of Commons.

Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader who was feted by Tory activists at their Manchester conference, this morning condemned the ‘stupid’ plan and warned it would just create a ‘black market’.

It is estimated that tobacco duties will raise £10.4billion for the Treasury this year, with that amount now set to decrease under the PM’s New Zealand-style plan to phase out legal sales. New Zealand introduced a similar ban last December.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after his conference speech, Mr Sunak insisted there was ‘no safe level of smoking’ when he was quizzed about restricting people’s right to choose.

‘Smoking is unequivocally the single biggest preventable cause of death, disability and illness in our society,’ the PM said.

‘Everyone recognises this measure will be the single biggest intervention in public health in a generation. That’s why I believe it’s the right thing to do.’

He added: ‘Does anybody – however much they believe in choice as I do – want their children or grandchildren to grow up to smoke? I think the answer to that is probably not. This policy will make that a reality.’

This was the original unedited photo of Rishi Sunak smiling with the teenagers in Cornwall in February

According to the research platform Our World In Data, 13.7 per cent of New Zealanders smoked in 2020 compared to 15.4 per cent of Brits and 23 per cent of Americans

The PM was challenged on why he was taking measures to ban the future sale of cigarettes but in June pushed back part of the Government’s anti-obesity strategy, saying he believed in ‘people’s right to choose’.

Mr Sunak said smoking cigarettes was not the same as eating crisps or a piece of cake because it could not be part of a balanced diet and there was no safe level of smoking.

Mr Farage, appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, said: ‘How a man that clever can bring in a law this stupid, I do not know. All you do is create a black market.’

Another critic of Mr Sunak’s plans, Tory MP Sir John Hayes, said: ‘If the PM had wanted to raise the smoking age to 21 then most people would have supported him.

‘But this is a ludicrous idea and will end up with 40 year-olds being allowed to smoke but 39 year-olds not at some point.

‘People will forever be having to confirm their age. I can’t imagine why the PM has been persuaded by this madness.’

Christopher Snowdon, of the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, said: ‘Not only is this prohibitionist wheeze hideously illiberal and unconservative, it is full of holes.

‘It will create a two tier society in which adults buy cigarettes informally from slightly older adults and will inflate the black market in general.’

Simon Clark, director of smokers’ group Forest, labelled the crackdown ‘creeping prohibition’ and said he does not think the policy will work.

‘Prohibition very, very rarely works,’ he told BBC Breakfast. ‘We’re infantilising the population there’s an important principle at stake here, which is freedom of choice and personal responsibility.’

But Sir Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, hit out at ‘bogus’ claims the plans will not reduce smoking rates.

He said: ‘Most people who smoke wish they had never taken it up. They try to stop and they can’t. And that’s the point – their choice has been taken away from them.

‘As a doctor I’ve seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking, because it’s something which is killing them, and yet they cannot. Their choice has been removed.’


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