Smoking age of sale should rise by year each year

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

Blonde woman smoking cigarette - stock photoImage source, Getty Images

The age at which people can buy tobacco and cigarettes in England should be raised year by year so that eventually no-one can buy them, a review says.

The call has been made in an independent report by ex-charity boss Javed Khan asked for by ministers.

Under the plan the age of sale would rise from 18 by one year every year so the children of today will never be allowed to buy tobacco.

The government has not agreed to the plan, but said it would consider it.

However, sources said it was unlikely at this stage that ministers would agree to the move.

Smoking rates have been falling since the 1970s. But there are still six million smokers in England - seven million across the UK.

The government has said new ideas are needed to convince the final remaining groups to quit.

Smoke free goal 'a huge challenge'

It has set an ambition for England to be smoke free - defined as less than 5% of the population smoking - by 2030.

Achieving that will be a huge challenge, which is why Health Secretary Sajid Javid asked former Barnardo's chief executive Mr Khan to review the current rules and approaches.

The proposal on raising the age of sale is similar to what is being introduced in New Zealand, where buying tobacco products will remain banned for anyone born after 2008.

In England, the age limit was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007.

Currently, one in nine 18 to 24-year-olds smokes, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Mr Khan has also recommended:

  • Setting aside an extra £125m for smoke free policies, with an extra £70 million per year ring-fenced for stop smoking services
  • Promotion of vapes as an effective "swap to stop" tool to help people quit smoking
  • Introducing a licensing system for shops to sell tobacco and banning supermarkets altogether
  • Increasing duties on products and banning duty-free tobacco

Ministers said they would consider the proposals as part of a wider package of measures they are looking to introduce this year to improve the health of the nation and tackle inequalities.

Move 'will make huge difference to health'

The report has been produced for ministers in England.

But Wales and Northern Ireland have already promised to work closely with counterparts in England over raising the legal age for smoking.

The number of deaths caused by smoking is falling - but it remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death and is estimated to cause a quarter of all cancer deaths.

In 2019, it accounted for 75,000 deaths in England - 15% of the total.

Prof Jim McManus, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said if the government was to implement the recommendations they would "make a huge difference to the nation's health".

And Deborah Arnott, of the charity Action on Smoking and Health, said given the higher rates of smoking and ill-health in more deprived areas only by making "smoking obsolete" could the government deliver on its levelling up mission.

But Simon Clark, of smokers' lobby group Forest, criticised the recommendations.

He said: "Creeping prohibition won't stop young adults smoking.

"It will simply drive the sale of tobacco underground and consumers will buy cigarettes on the black market where no-one pays tax and products are completely unregulated."

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