By Farouq Suleiman
LONDON (Reuters) – The legal age of sale for cigarettes in England should be raised by one year every year until eventually no one can buy tobacco products, a government-commissioned review said on Thursday.
Progressively increasing the minimum age from 18 was one of 15 recommendations in a review ordered by health minister Sajid Javid to help meet a target to be “smokefree” by 2030. Smokefree is defined as 5% smoking prevalence or less in England.
Other interventions included the promotion of vapes as a “swap to stop” tool to help people quit smoking, and a tobacco licence for retailers to limit availability.
The government will now publish its own plan.
Last year, New Zealand announced plans to ban future generations from ever purchasing cigarettes with people aged 14 and under in 2027 not being allowed to buy cigarettes in the country in their lifetime.
Britain, facing the rising cost of a publicly funded healthcare service, has in recent years sought to intervene on various public health matters including reducing sugar in drinks.
But some in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party resent such moves as interfering in individuals’ personal choices. The Conservative government recently delayed a policy to tackle obesity, calling into question how far it would go on such measures during a cost of living crisis.
Government data showed tobacco taxes raised 10.28 billion pounds ($12.88 billion) for the public purse in 2021/2022.
Javid described smoking as “the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death” and acknowledged that smoking rates were not falling fast enough. He said the government would undertake work looking at vaping as a substitute for smoking.
There are an estimated 6 million smokers in England and the minimum age for the legal purchase of tobacco in England, Scotland and Wales was last raised in 2007 from 16 to 18 years.
“Without immediate and sustained action, England will miss the smokefree target by many years and most likely decades,” said the head of the review, Javed Khan, a former CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s.
Jefferies analysts, in a note ahead of the announcement, said aggressive measures would hit those tobacco companies still focused on cigarettes, naming Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco
Those with a growing reliance on vaping, including British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, could benefit.
Kingsley Wheaton, chief marketing officer at British American Tobacco, welcomed the focus on vaping but warned that age increases could have unintended consequences.
“The obvious one is that you simply drive purchases into the black market, and create an illicit trade environment,” he said.
Imperial Brands welcomed the focus on vaping and said it would contribute to the consultation process.
($1 = 0.7981 pounds)
(Reporting by William James and Farouq Suleiman, Additional reporting from Yadarisa Shabong, editing by Alistair Smout and Toby Chopra)