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The legal age for buying cigarettes in England should rise by a year every year, a new report has advised.

The findings of the independent review led by Dr Javed Khan OBE will be considered and a response published as part of the government’s Health Disparities White Paper.

Commissioned by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, it sets out a raft of recommendations to support Downing Street meet its smokefree ambition by 2030.

The Cabinet Minister yesterday refused to rule out raising the age to buy cigarettes from 18, and said the government must “look at radical ways to reduce smoking rates”.

A delayed review by Javed Khan, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, will reportedly be released on Thursday.

The key points in the review include a call for the smoking age to be increased annually until no one can buy tobacco in the country.

And increased investment of an additional £125 million per year in smokefree policies, with an extra £70 million per year ringfenced for stop smoking services.

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Sajid Javid commissioned the independent review ( REUTERS)

Almost six million people in England smoke, and tobacco remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death.

Tackling tobacco use and supporting smokers to quit would help prevent 15 types of cancers – including lung cancer, throat cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia – a key objective of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Recent data shows 1 in 4 deaths from all cancers were estimated to be from smoking.

The independent review found smoking causes a disproportionate burden on the most disadvantaged families and communities – at its most extreme, smoking prevalence is 4.5 times higher in Burnley than in Exeter.

Smokers in the most deprived areas of the country spend a higher proportion of their income on tobacco.

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The average smoker in the North East spends over 10% of their income on tobacco, compared to just over 6% in the South East.

In an attempt to protect the population from the harms of smoking, the four key interventions highlighted by Dr Khan in the review are:

  • Increased investment of an additional £125 million per year in smokefree 2030 policies, with an extra £70 million per year ringfenced for stop smoking services
  • Raising the age of sale from 18 by one year every year, until eventually no one can buy a tobacco product in this country
  • Promotion of vapes as an effective “swap to stop” tool to help people quit smoking
  • Improving prevention in the NHS so smokers are offered advice and support to quit at every interaction they have with health services
Ex Barnado’s chief executive Javed Khan ( Handout)

Other interventions recommended in the report include 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: “In this review I have looked at our current smokefree initiatives, along with the very best practice from around the world.

“I would like to thank the many valued voices that have made key contributions towards shaping this ambitious and bold report.

“Without immediate and sustained action, England will miss the smokefree target by many years and most likely decades.

The amount of young smokers increased to during the Covid pandemic ( Getty Images/Universal Images Group)

“A smokefree 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 smokefree society in our great country, we need to commit to making smoking obsolete, once and for all.

“It was a privilege to work on this review and get the opportunity to improve the health of people across the country, and I look forward to seeing the government’s response.”

The report highlights that although the government has made substantial long-term progress in reducing smoking rates to their lowest ever level, due to measures such as the ban on smoking indoors, tobacco is still one of the largest drivers of health disparities.

During the Covid pandemic, the proportion of young adults aged 18 to 24 that smoke rose from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3.

Nearly 1 in 10 pregnant women smoke at the time of giving birth, which increases the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome.

Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Deborah Arnott said implementing the changes recommended are “essential”.

She added that research commissioned by YouGov also found “a substantial majority support stronger interventions to tackle smoking”.

“Only by making smoking obsolete can the government deliver on its levelling up mission for health and wellbeing.”

Downing Street welcomed the review and said it would consider the recommendations.

The PM’s official spokesman said: “We appreciate Dr Javed [Khan] for conducting this independent review. We welcome his recognition that we have made substantial progress reducing smoking rates.

“Clearly there’s more than can be done.

“What we will be doing now is carefully recommendations as part of the wider work to improve the health of the nation and reduce inequalities through our Health Disparities White Paper.”

Asked if the PM agreed with the call to prevent council house tenants from smoking inside or ban smoking in beer gardens, the spokesman said: “I’m not going to jump ahead and start opining on different recommendations… we will consider them and set out our view.”

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