Legal smoking age in UK could rise to 21 after ‘radical’ review

New recommendations on smoking policy reportedly have the backing of health secretary Sajid Javid

Emily Atkinson
Saturday 21 May 2022 19:20
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<p>Sajid Javid gave up smoking when he became health secretary  </p>

Sajid Javid gave up smoking when he became health secretary

The legal smoking age in the UK could be raised to 21 as part of a “radical” review commissioned by health secretary Sajid Javid, reports claim.

The review is expected to arrive in the coming weeks in a bid to slash the number of smokers in Britain to 5 per cent by 2030, The Telegraph understands.

Led by former Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan, it is likely the report will recommend that the legal age to purchase cigarettes is raised and that new taxes are levied on profits made by tobacco companies.

The newspaper also claims the report will push the NHS to do more to encourage switching to vaping or e-cigarettes, especially during pregnancy.

The potential reforms to the government’s policy on smoking, including the ratcheting up of the rules on sales, reportedly have the backing of Mr Javid, who gave up smoking after becoming health secretary last year.

Mr Khan previously pledged his support to a “polluter pays” approach that would force tobacco companies to finance anti-smoking policies.

When the review was launched, Mr Khan said his findings would “help highlight key interventions which can help the government achieve its ambitions to be smoke-free by 2030 and tackle health disparities”.

A source who Mr Khan consulted with during the review told The Telegraph: “The stance he’s taken in the meetings I’ve had with him has been quite radical.”

Three sources described the report, which was commissioned in February, as “political cover” for Mr Javid to ensure the 2030 target was not shelved by No 10 amid fears the Tories would face accusations of trying to implement a “nanny state”.

Mr Javid is understood to have looked at policies in the US, where the legal smoking age is 21, and New Zealand, where buying cigarettes will never be legal for anyone currently aged 14 and under.

A Downing Street source told the newspaper that prime minister Boris Johnson does not believe the legal age should be raised as 18 is recognised by the government as the threshold of legal responsibility.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Tackling issues such as smoking is a priority for the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and a key part of the government’s levelling up agenda.

“This is why we launched the independent review of our bold ambition to make England smoke free by 2030.

“The review will provide independent, evidence-based advice on potential interventions that will inform our approach to tackling the stark health disparities associated with tobacco use – and we look forward to seeing the report in due course.”

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