Legal age someone can buy cigarettes should rise by a year every year, review recommends

The age at which someone can legally buy cigarettes in England should rise by a year every year until no one can get them, a government-commissioned review has found.

The plans would create a “smoke-free generation”, with people under a certain age unable to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products in their lifetime – similar to New Zealand which has banned the sale of cigarettes anyone born after 2008.

Raising the age at which people can buy tobacco products, currently 18, is seen as crucial in order to reach the government’s ‘Smokefree 2030’ ambition – defined as less than 5% of the population smoking – but ministers are reportedly split over the plans.

What else does the review recommend?

  • Increased investment in smoke-free policies
  • The promotion of vaping
  • Improved prevention in the NHS

Responding to the review, health secretary Sajid Javid said the government will “carefully consider” the recommendations set out in the delayed “landmark review” by Dr Javed Khan, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, that was released this morning.

The report found England is currently on track to miss its smoke-free 2030 target “by at least seven years”, with the poorest areas in society not meeting it until 2044.

“To have any chance of hitting the smoke-free 2030 target, we need to accelerate the rate of decline of people who smoke, by 40%,” the report said.

The government has been urged to ban all online sales of tobacco products, and stop supermarkets from selling them in order to limit the availability of tobacco across the country.

Other recommendations include increasing investment by £125 million per year to reach the government’s 2030 target, including £70 million annually in services to help people to stop smoking.

Dr Khan’s report also recommends the promotion of vaping, including prescribed vapes, saying: “We know vapes are not a ‘silver bullet’ nor are they totally risk-free, but the alternative is far worse.”

The dashed line represents projected smoking prevalence

Mr Javid said the government will take forward a range of work on vaping as a substitute for smoking “in due course”, in addition to publishing a new tobacco control plan.

The report also recommends the NHS offers smokers advice and support to quit “at every interaction they have with health services, whether that be through GPs, hospitals, psychiatrists, midwives, pharmacists, dentists or optometrists”.

A rethink of the way cigarette sticks and packets look to reduce their appeal, and a mass media campaign to encourage smokers to quit has also been suggested.

Currently, smoking costs the NHS £2.5 billion per year.

‘I urge the government to make smoking obsolete’

Dr Khan wrote: “Smoking kills and ruins lives. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

“By commissioning this review, the government sent out a powerful message that the status quo is not acceptable. I have taken on that challenge and responded with recommendations that are as comprehensive as they are bold.

“Anything less would have been an abdication of my duty. We now need to make it as hard as possible to smoke, and as easy as possible to quit, leading to a smoke-free generation.”

He added: “To truly achieve a smoke-free society in this great country of ours, smoking should be obsolete. I cannot, in all conscience, endorse a strategy that settles for anything less.

“So, I am asking the government to go further than its current ambitions. It needs to go faster. It needs to be bolder. It needs to do more to protect future generations from this highly addictive and deadly product. Along the way, the government should do all it can to dissuade the tobacco industry from selling tobacco products.

Is the government doing enough to stop smoking? (Dark blue is 18-24, light blue is all ages)
Survey responses to the question: Is the government doing enough to stop smoking? (Dark blue is 18-24, light blue is all ages)

“The ambition for tackling smoking should aim for ‘net zero’ – to make smoking obsolete.”

There are a reported six million smokers in England, and 46% of people don’t feel the government is doing enough to limit smoking.

Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death, the report said.

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