Health charities and medical organisations have backed a group of MPs who are calling for a ban on cigarette sales to anyone under 21.
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 to help smokers quit.
It is hoped that the consultation on raising the age will help end the “tobacco epidemic” by 2030.
The cross-party group of MPs and peers has warned the government 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".
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The report notes that more people are likely to have died last year and this year from smoking than COVID.
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 pregnant, or who have a mental health condition.
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, while there is 63% support for increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking charity ASH, said “the time has now come” for the government to deliver on its 2030 target.
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.
“We welcome the recommendations in this report, which include targeted support for people to successfully quit this deadly addiction.”
However, Simon Clark, from smokers' lobby group Forest, said it was up to adults "to take responsibility for their health".
He told Yahoo News UK: “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 under 21 the government should promote reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes and encourage adults of all ages to take personal responsibility for their health.”
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