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MPs call for age of sale of cigarettes to be raised from 18 to 21 to end ‘tobacco epidemic’ by 2030

Written by on 9 June 2021

A group of MPs has called on the government to consider raising the age of sale of cigarettes to 21 in order to end the “tobacco epidemic” by the end of the decade.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health says the age of sale should be increased from 18 as part of tougher regulations to stop children and young people from becoming smokers, as well as help current smokers quit.

It is also calling for a “polluter pays” amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill to get funding for a tobacco control programme, ensuring manufacturers pay to deliver an end to smoking.

In addition, the group is demanding targeted investment to provide extra support to help smokers quit in areas and communities where smoking does the most damage.

This includes people in routine and manual jobs, those who are unemployed, individuals living in social housing, or those who have a mental health condition or are pregnant.

The group’s recommendations have been backed by health charities and medical organisations.

It warns the government that it can only build back “better and fairer” from the COVID-19 pandemic by making smoking obsolete.

APPG chairman Bob Blackman said: “Our report sets out measures which will put us on track to achieve the government’s ambition to end smoking by 2030, but they can’t be delivered without funding.

“Tobacco manufacturers make extreme profits selling highly addictive, lethal products, while government coffers are bare because of COVID-19.

“The manufacturers have the money, they should be made to pay to end the epidemic.”

According to the APPG’s report, there is widespread public support for its recommendations.

More than three quarters (76%) of the public support the government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition.

Meanwhile, some 77% back making tobacco manufacturers pay a levy or licence fee to the government to fund measures to help smokers quit and stop young people from taking up smoking, while 63% are in favour of increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said “the time has now come” for the government to deliver on its promise.

“Currently smoking rates are not declining nearly fast enough,” she said.

“If, as called for by the APPG, the recommendations in its report are implemented by 2022 we can get on track to make smoking obsolete by 2030.”

Alison Cook, director of external affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Smoking still accounts for 35% of all respiratory deaths in England each year and it is still the leading cause of preventable lung diseases such as lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

“We welcome the recommendations in this report, which include targeted support for people to successfully quit this deadly addiction.

“If the government is serious about reaching its own target of becoming smoke-free by 2030, it needs to do much more by urgently providing sustainable funding for the delivery of stop smoking services across the NHS and in the community, as a broad offer is highly effective in supporting people to quit.

“Without action now, we will continue to see thousands of people die every year as a result of preventable lung diseases linked to smoking.”

But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said “treating young adults like children is insulting their intelligence”.

“If you can have sex at 16, join the army or drive a car at 17, you should be allowed to buy tobacco at 18,” he said.

“In the eyes of the law you are an adult at 18 and once an adult you should be treated like one.”

He added: “Instead of prohibiting the sale of tobacco to people aged 18 to 20, the government should continue to educate teenagers about the health risks of smoking and encourage adults of all ages to take personal responsibility for their health.

“If however an adult chooses to smoke the government must respect that choice.”

And Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs thinktank, said: “If this All Party Group and its friends at Action on Smoking and Health believe the age of consent should be higher, it should lobby to raise the voting age to 21.

“If people are not old enough to make the decision to smoke, they are not old enough to make more important decisions about who runs the country.

“Unless the APPG wants to raise the age of consent for all adult activities, this proposal will be seen as a move towards prohibition.”

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