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MPs call for consultation on raising age to buy cigarettes to 21 in the UK

By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Affairs Correspondent

MPs have called for a consultation on raising the age of sale of cigarettes to 21 to end the “tobacco epidemic” by 2030.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has recommended raising the age of sale from 18 to 21 as part of tougher tobacco regulations to protect children and young people from becoming smokers and help smokers quit.

The recommendations, backed by health charities and medical organisations, also include a “polluter pays” amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill to secure funding for a tobacco control programme, forcing manufacturers to pay to deliver the end of smoking.

The cross-party group of MPs and peers has warned the Government that it can only build back “better and fairer” from the pandemic by making smoking obsolete and must commit now to the actions needed to secure its vision of a Smokefree 2030.

The report notes that more people are likely to have died last year and this year from smoking than Covid-19.

It also calls for targeted investment to provide additional support to help smokers quit in regions and communities where smoking does the most damage, including those who are in routine and manual jobs, unemployed, living in social housing, or who have a mental health condition or are pregnant.

The report suggests widespread public support for the recommendations, with more than three quarters (76%) of the public supporting the Government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition.

Some 77% support making tobacco manufacturers pay a levy or licence fee to Government for measures to help smokers quit and prevent young people from taking up smoking, while 63% support increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21.

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.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “We all applauded when the Government announced its ambition for a Smokefree 2030. But that was two years ago, the time has now come to deliver.

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

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “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. In the eyes of the law you are an adult at 18 and once an adult you should be treated like one.

“Treating young adults like children is insulting their intelligence. 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.”

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