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Legal age for smoking should rise and ‘polluter tax’ must be considered – report

Among his 15 recommendations, Dr Javed Khan issued four critical ‘must-dos’ for the Government to be acted upon immediately.

09 June 2022

Tobacco firms could be forced to pay a “polluter” tax to help smokers quit while the legal age for buying tobacco should rise every year, according to a Government-commissioned review.

The minimum age at which people can buy a tobacco product in England should go up by a year annually until the point where no-one can buy them, said Dr Javed Khan, who led the study into how England can become smoke-free.

Among his 15 recommendations, Dr Khan issued four “critical must-dos for the Government” to be acted upon immediately, including an extra £125 million per year to fund the support that smokers need to help them quit.

This should include investing an extra £70 million per year in stop smoking services, “ringfenced for this purpose”, the report said.

“If the Government cannot fund this themselves, they should ‘make the polluter pay’ and either introduce a tobacco industry levy, or generate additional corporation tax, with immediate effect,” it added.

The second “must-do” is to increase the age of sale from 18, by one year every year, until no-one can buy a tobacco product.

The third call is to promote vaping as an “effective tool to help people to quit smoking tobacco”, which, although not a risk-free “silver bullet”, is better than smoking.

Fourthly, prevention “must become part of the NHS’s DNA”, Dr Khan said, adding that the health service must do more to advise and support smokers to quit “at every interaction they have with health services”.

At the moment, the Government is on track to miss its target to make England smoke-free by 2030, which means 5% or fewer adults smoke.

Smoking causes nearly one in five cancer cases and more than one in four cancer deaths each year in the UK. Almost six million people in England still smoke.

Around one third of adult tobacco consumption is by people with a current mental health condition and they are twice as likely to smoke as the general population.

Dr Khan put the annual cost to society of smoking at around £17 billion (£2.4 billion to the NHS alone) and said “making smoking obsolete in England would lift around 2.6 million adults and one million children out of poverty”.

Dr Khan, former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, also called for a tobacco licence for retailers to limit the availability of tobacco across the country, a rethink of the way cigarette sticks and packets look to reduce their appeal, and a mass media campaign to encourage smokers to quit.

Dr Khan said: “Without immediate and sustained action, 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.

“My proposals are not just a plan for this government, but successive governments too.

“To truly achieve a smoke-free society in our great country, we need to commit to making smoking obsolete, once and for all.”

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