The company has written on four occasions to the Department of Health to request a change in the law. The DoH is understood to have considered raising the minimum age but has chosen to concentrate on enforcing the current limit.
BAT says it is waging the campaign because it doesn't want to sell cigarettes to children. Martin Broughton, BAT chairman, said: "We take the view that smoking is an adult pastime. We don't like kids smoking, we don't think it's right, but equally it's not good for our image."
The minimum age for purchasing cigarettes varies across Europe and the US, but Britain's limit of 16 is low. In some states of the US, consumers have to be 21.
The move by BAT, which sells the Rothmans - Peter Stuyvesant and Dunhill brands in the UK - has been greeted with cynicism by Ash, the anti-smoking group.
A spokesman for Ash said: "Anything the tobacco industry does sends off alarm bells. The reason they are doing this is for PR purposes, to show they are not targeting children. But the minimum smoking age is not a crucial factor."
One industry source dismissed BAT's move as ploy to undermine Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco, which makes most of its cigarettes in the UK. As a global company which sells just a fraction of its products in Britain, BAT would have less to lose by a change in the law.
However a spokesman for Gallaher, which sells more cigarettes in the UK than any other company, said it would not oppose a change. A spokeswoman for Imperial Tobacco said that this was an issue for the Government.
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