YOUNG adults should be banned from buying cigarettes, experts said today.
There is mounting pressure on the Government to up the legal age limit to buy fags from 18 to 21 – to crackdown on young people smoking.
One leading doctor said the move would help curb peer pressure within schools and help stop the sale of cigarettes in the playground.
The All Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has proposed raising the age of sale of tobacco to 21, “to discourage uptake by those most at risk”.
Smokers start as kids
Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, a specialist at Imperial College London and the British Lung Foundation, backed the calls.
He argued in the BMJ today that it would make it “harder for children to obtain cigarettes and would take the legal age beyond school age”.
Achieving a smoke-free generation – where smoking rates are below five per cent in all groups in society – is a “key public health goal”.
Dr Hopkinson, who is also chair of charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said helping existing smokers quit is important.
But he added: “The most vital element is to prevent young people from starting in the first place.”
Stop peer pressure
Most smokers start as kids, and two thirds of those who try smoking will go on to become regular smokers.
The habit is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in Britain, drastically increasing a smoker’s risk of various cancers and heart disease.
Dr Hopkinson said increasing the legal age to buy cigarettes will help make it harder for kids buying and selling them at school.
“Smoking is a contagious habit, transmitted within peer groups,” he said.
“The age increase will protect younger children from exposure to older pupils who smoke.”
Smoking rates fell when age raised from 16 to 18
When the UK increased the legal age from 16 to 18 in 2007, there was a fall in smoking rates among young people.
Dr Hopkinson and other campaigners said this proposed further increase could help reduce rates even further.
The age increase is part of a package of measures the APPG has suggested to Government.
Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow West and chair of the APPG, said: “Smoking remains the leading cause of premature death and health inequalities.
“Ratcheting up tobacco regulation further and faster is essential to achieve the Government’s vision for prevention, to increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 while reducing inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.”
The other measures put forward, include:
- A “polluter pays” tax – a charge on tobacco that could raise £150 million a year from cigarette companies to help pay for “revitalised, evidence-based ways to help smokers quit, and stop young people starting to smoke”
- retail licensing – a scheme to help limit underage sales, banning the sale of cigarettes from unlicensed shops
- spending on mass media education campaigns
- supporting regional tobacco control bodies that have a big impact
- Government-mandated flyers in cigarette packs to help encourage and support quitting
- banning ads that promote smoking in films and on TV
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, told The Sun: “Ash supports increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21 as part of an integrated package of measures, not a pick and mix set of options.
“The package includes a new ‘polluter pays’ charge on Big Tobacco to pay for anti-smoking measures, licensing of all tobacco retailers and stopping young people being exposed to smoking in film, on TV and social media.”
MORE ON QUITTING SMOKING
Dr Hopkinson said there is wide public support for the measures, according to polling data.
“As healthcare professionals we should be advocating them,” he said.
“Ministers should seize the opportunity to deliver a healthy legacy.”
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