Smoking is among the main causes of preventable dying within the UK – accounting for almost 100,000 deaths every year. In England alone, smoking triggered almost 75,000 deaths in 2020. In financial phrases, smoking prices the financial system an estimated £19 billion a 12 months – with smoking-related well being points alone costing the NHS round £6 billion per 12 months. Given the numerous burden attributable to smoking, it’s no surprise the federal government desires to make England smoke-free by 2030. Wales and Scotland have additionally launched related insurance policies.
A lately revealed unbiased overview has now outlined 15 vital interventions wanted to assist obtain this aim. A few of these suggestions embrace selling vaping as a substitute for cigarettes and rising duties on tobacco merchandise. The report additionally recommends elevating the age an individual should purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 – then rising the age of sale by one yearly thereafter.
England wouldn’t be the primary nation to extend the age an individual can legally purchase tobacco merchandise in a bid to deal with smoking. In 2019, the US launched laws that modified the minimal age an individual might buy tobacco merchandise from 18 to 21. In 2021, New Zealand additionally turned the primary nation on the planet to implement a “tobacco-free era” coverage, banning all gross sales of tobacco to anybody born after 2008.
Whereas it’s nonetheless too early to know what affect New Zealand’s new smoking ban has had on charges, after they beforehand raised the authorized age to purchase tobacco, smoking charges declined throughout all age teams from 18.2% of the inhabitants in 2012 to 13.4% in 2020. Within the US, the variety of people who smoke additionally declined after the minimal buying age was raised.
This additionally wouldn’t be the primary time the UK elevated the authorized age for getting cigarettes. When the age of sale was elevated from 16 to 18 in 2007, there was a fall in youth smoking charges. Given the knock-on impact that elevating the smoking age can have on total smoking charges, it is sensible for the UK to make use of this technique once more.
In 2019, round 15% of 18 to 20-year-olds reported smoking. In England, that quantities to round 364,000 folks. Although this may increasingly solely be a fraction of the inhabitants, analysis exhibits that the sooner an individual begins smoking, the extra seemingly they’re to grow to be dependent and develop smoking-related well being issues. Elevating the authorized age would each assist cut back the probability of somebody changing into hooked on nicotine and growing well being issues later in life. Analysis additionally means that elevating the authorized smoking age can forestall younger grownup people who smoke transitioning into long-term people who smoke.
Proof additionally exhibits that the majority people who smoke who begin early in life usually tend to die prematurely from smoking-related causes – corresponding to lung most cancers. However the earlier a smoker quits the much less seemingly that is to occur. Elevating the smoking age to 21 (and yearly thereafter) wouldn’t solely forestall extra younger folks from changing into people who smoke, however it might additionally forestall the variety of folks affected by smoking-related well being issues.
Well being advantages for everybody
Some critics of the advice to boost the age of sale for cigarettes from 18 to 21 after which by one 12 months yearly typically cite this as “an infringement of civil liberties”. Usually, folks argue that banning cigarette smoking will finally result in a ban of different dangerous substances – corresponding to alcohol, or high-sugar meals. However analysis is obvious that whereas there could also be secure consumption ranges of alcohol and sugar there’s no secure stage for smoking.
Each cigarette smoked harms almost each organ and system within the physique. Secondhand and thirdhand smoke (being round surfaces which have been uncovered to cigarette smoke, corresponding to furnishings) may also trigger severe hurt to well being, even to those that don’t smoke cigarettes – together with pores and skin cancers and slower wound therapeutic. Taking steps to scale back the variety of folks in England who smoke would have main well being advantages for people who smoke and non-smokers alike.
Whereas smoking charges are already declining within the UK, it nonetheless stays one of many nation’s largest preventable killers. Whereas it’s unlikely rising the smoking age can be sufficient to assist the UK grow to be smoke-free by 2030, combining it with different evidence-based measures (corresponding to limiting the place folks can smoke and elevating the price of tobacco) can be key in attaining this.
Ray Higginson doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.