Legal age to buy cigarettes in UK should rise from 18 to 21, say MPs

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The legal smoking age in Britain should be increased to 21 according to MPs who are calling for a crackdown on tobacco giants  and cigarette use in TV as part of efforts to build a smoke-free generation, writes Alex Matthews-King for The Independent.

As well as raising the legal age for buying tobacco from 18, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health said the tobacco industry should face levies which reflected the habit’s cost to society.

This funding should be funnelled towards stop-smoking initiatives, while tobacco duty should be raised to make smoking less affordable.

Council-run cessation services have seen significant cuts in recent years and GP prescribing of nicotine products has also dropped, leading to fears that progress in reducing smoking could stall.

The APPG said the 2017 Tobacco Control Plan’s reliance on cash-strapped local authorities to help bring about a smoke-free generation was unrealistic.

The APPG chairman, Conservative MP Bob Blackman, 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.”

Campaigners said that experimentation with smoking led to a fatal habit in two thirds of people, but was less common in people over the age of 21.

Other measures proposed by the group included:

  • Tightening rules on smoking in television programmes and films.
  • Collection and publication of tobacco manufacturers’ sales and marketing data.
  • Spending more on educational campaigns and making manufacturers insert stop-smoking information cards inside packs.
  • Banning the sale of tobacco from unlicensed retailers or those who break laws on who should be sold to.

Campaigners also believe that ‘Big Tobacco’ firms should be charged a levy to pay for the costs of tobacco control, which could raise £150 million, and taxes on tobacco should be raised to 5 per cent above inflation, with an equal surcharge added to both loose tobacco and manufactured cigarettes.

The call for a change to the legal smoking age comes after the Local Government Association, which represents English councils, called for new powers to crack down on “lawless” shisha bars selling tobacco to under 18s and flouting indoor smoking laws.

The British Lung Foundation called on government to accept all the recommendations, especially the proposals to force tobacco companies to pick up the bill for tackling the damage to health caused by the industry.

Chief executive Penny Woods said: “A ‘polluter pays levy’ could raise at least £150m.

“This money, which the highly profitable tobacco industry can easily afford, could fund cash-strapped stop-smoking services and discourage young people from ever lighting up.

“The recommendations will also protect children by funding enforcement against underage sales and help tackle the trade in illicit cigarettes. Raising the age of sale from 18 to 21 will help stop experimentation from becoming a fatal habit and reinforce the dangers of tobacco.”

Legal age to buy cigarettes should be raised from 18 to 21, MPs say MPs call for legal smoking age to be raised to 21

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