Smoking age should rise each year to make England smoke-free by 2030, ministers urged

One in four cancer deaths are linked to smoking, recent data says.

The legal age to buy tobacco should go up from 18 by a year annually in order to make England smoke-free by 2030, a government-commissioned review has said.

The plan, if adopted right away, would mean teenagers aged 16 now will never be able to legally buy tobacco in England and eventually no-one would be able to buy a tobacco product in the country.

The report, commissioned by Health Secretary Sajid Javid and led by Dr Javed Khan OBE, former CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s, also says the government should pump an additional £125 million per year into smoke-free policies.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Promotion of vapes as an effective “swap to stop” tool to help people quit smoking

  • Improving prevention in the NHS so smokers are offered advice and support to quit at every interaction they have with health services

  • Requirement for retailers to hold a tobacco license to limit the availability of tobacco across the country

  • A further clamp down on the aesthetic of cigarettes to make them less appealing

Almost six million people in England smoke, and tobacco remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death, according to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

One in four cancer deaths are thought to be linked to smoking, according to recent data, and DHSC says helping smokers to quit could prevent 15 types of cancer, including lung cancer, throat cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia.

The report also found the most disadvantaged families and communities are disproportionately impacted by tobacco use.

Smokers in the most deprived areas of the country spend a higher proportion of their income on tobacco, the report said, and the average smoker in the north east spends over 10% of their income on tobacco, compared to just over 6% in the south east.

At its most extreme, the report said, smoking prevalence is 4.5 times higher in Burnley than in Exeter.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a campaigning public health charity, says "twelve billion pounds pours out of smokers’ pockets each year" but it also hits the public purse too, with the NHS having to deal with tobacco's health impacts.

The report said: "By addressing lifestyle risk factors such as smoking and poor nutrition, we can ease pressure on the NHS so capacity is boosted to tackle the Covid backlogs and reduce waiting times."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

Nearly one in ten pregnant women smoke at the time of giving birth, which increases the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the report.

And the proportion of young adults aged 18 to 24 that smoke rose from one in four to one in three during the Covid pandemic.

Dr Javed Khan said if his recommendations are not taken up immediately, England will "miss the smoke-free target by many years and most likely decades".

 “A smoke-free society should be a social norm – but to achieve this, we must do more to stop people taking up smoking, help those who already smoke and support those who are disproportionately impacted by smoking.

"My holistic set of recommendations for government will deliver this, whilst saving lives, saving money and addressing the health disparities associated with smoking."

The “smoke-free 2030” target is defined as 5% smoking prevalence or less in England.