The age at which people can legally buy tobacco in England should be lowered from 18 to one every year until eventually no one can buy it, a sweeping government-commissioned review has recommended in a bid to make obsolete smoking.
A total of 15 interventions are proposed to help achieve the government’s goal of being smoke-free by 2030. They include promoting vaping as an effective ‘swap to quit’ tool to help people stop smoking, as well as improving prevention in the NHS so that smokers receive support to quit at every interaction with health services.
Other interventions recommended in the report include a tobacco license for retailers to limit its availability nationwide, a redesign of the appearance of cigarette sticks and packs to further reduce their appeal, and a mass media campaign. to encourage smokers to quit.
The review also calls for an additional £125m a year to be invested in smoke-free policies, with an additional £70m a year earmarked for stop smoking services. The report adds: “If the government cannot finance this itself, it should make the polluter pay and either introduce a tax on the tobacco industry or raise an additional corporation tax, with immediate effect.”
Almost 6 million people in England smoke and tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death.
Dr Javed Khan, former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, who led the review, said: ‘Without immediate and sustained action, England will miss the smoke-free target by many years and very likely decades.
“A smoke-free society should be a social norm – but to achieve this we need to do more to stop people from starting to smoke, help those who already smoke and support those who are disproportionately affected by tobacco use. My holistic set of recommendations for government will achieve this goal, while saving lives, saving money, and addressing health disparities associated with smoking.
“My proposals are not only a plan for this government, but also for successive governments. To truly achieve a smoke-free society in our great country, we must commit to making smoking obsolete, once and for all.
By far the most radical policy proposed is to raise the legal smoking age by one year each year, to create a generation of smoke-free people in England. It follows a similar policy announced in New Zealand that will ban smoking for the next generation, so people aged 14 and under will never be able to legally buy tobacco.
Grace Everest, policy officer at the Health Foundation, welcomed the review but said it would only help create a smoke-free society if the government “chooses to act on” its recommendations.
“It remains to be seen whether the main proposals of the review – such as raising the age of sale of tobacco and requiring the ‘polluter pays’ to invest more in tobacco control – will be implemented. In practice.
“With smoking being a leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in England and a driver of our stark inequalities in life expectancy, failure to do so would be a major missed opportunity to improve and level the health of the population. nation. Now is the time to act boldly.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma + Lung UK, said the review could be a “blueprint for lasting change” and should be the backbone of the government’s tobacco control plan. “If these recommendations are ignored, the government’s leveling ambition and its own 2030 smoke-free target will fail, making it harder for the UK to shed the title of worst in Western Europe for lung health.”
Jim McManus, president of the Association of Public Health Directors, said the proposals offered “a generational opportunity” to not just meet, but go beyond the goal of a smoke-free 2030 and to make “a huge difference to the health of the nation”. ”.
The recommendations will be considered by ministers and a response will be published as part of the government’s health disparities white paper.