Radical plans to raise the legal smoking age to 21 could be unveiled tomorrow, when an independent report is due to land. The review, led by former children’s charity chief Javed Khan, was commissioned by Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
It has been plagued by repeated delays amid speculation its recommendations have been met with pushback from ministers.
As well as controversially raising the legal age, the report is expected to call for new taxes on tobacco firms — at a time when Boris Johnson has been urged to cut taxes to save his job.
The PM has vowed to get back to the ‘fundamental Conservative instinct’ of reducing the tax burden, after narrowly surviving a no confidence vote.
Last month he scrapped plans for a ban on multibuy junk food after being convinced that now was the wrong time to heap more costs on families already struggling with the cost of living crisis.
Any recommendations made in Mr Khan’s tobacco report, part of No10’s bold plan to turn England smoke-free by 2030, are likely to go out to consultation before they are implemented.
It is also likely to suggest that the NHS does more to promote e-cigarettes and vapes to smokers.
Radical plans to raise the legal smoking age could be announced on Thursday, when an independent report is due to land (file image)
Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, will attend the report’s launch on Thursday, along with health minister Maggie Throup and the shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne.
Industry sources have described its recommendations as ‘quite radical’.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: ‘You don’t have to be 21 to know that smoking is potentially harmful to your health, it’s drummed into every child from an early age.
‘If you can legally have sex at 16, drive a car at 17 and purchase alcohol at 18, you should be allowed to make an informed choice to buy tobacco at 18.
‘In the eyes of the law you are an adult at 18 and you should be treated like one.’
It is expected to propose raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 but considerations were also made for 25.
The minimum age for tobacco purchases was raised from 16 to 18 across Britain in 2007, when it also became illegal to smoke in enclosed spaces.
Officials followed up the measures in 2017 with a policy that meant all branded packaging had to be replaced with plain greenish-brown boxes.
Smoking has steadily decreased since 1974, with around 15 per cent of the population smoking in 2019. That year, the Government set a target of becoming smoke-free by 2030
Could cigarettes be slapped with INDIVIDUAL warnings?
Tobacco manufacturers would have to use eight different warnings in rotation on its sticks and rolling paper under the terms of the Cigarette Stick Health Warnings Bill (a mocked up version of one of a warning)
Printing health warnings on individual cigarettes would make England a world leader in eradicating smoking, ministers were told earlier this year.
Tobacco manufacturers would have to use eight different warnings in rotation on its sticks and rolling paper under the terms of the Cigarette Stick Health Warnings Bill.
These would include ‘smoking kills’ and other messages to highlight the devastating health effects, the financial cost and contact details for advice on quitting.
Conservative peer Lord Young of Cookham has spent four decades lobbying for his proposal to become law.
He first raised it as a health minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979.
Smoking rates in the UK have fallen from about half of the population in the 1970s to just 15 per cent now.
But use increased by 25 per cent among the under-30s during the pandemic, the equivalent of more than 600,000 new smokers.
The Government aims to slash smoking rates to just 5 per cent by 2030.
But Mr Khan, in an interview before his review, warned the target would not be met without action to restrict sales.
His report is also rumoured to include a levy on companies that make more than £700 million each year.
This will then be used to fund quitting support and e-cigarettes on the NHS, according to sources.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said cutting cigarette use remained one of its top priorities.
But the Prime Minister is under pressure from all corners of his own party to move away from nanny-state and high tax policies.
Mr Johnson told the Cabinet yesterday he wanted to get back to his Tory instinct of cutting taxes as the next general election approaches.
He stressed to Cabinet colleagues that delivering tax cuts would help produce ‘considerable growth in employment and economic progress’.
The PM also ordered ministers to bring forward new initiatives to slash Government spending in order to free up cash for tax cuts.
Mr Johnson introduced a manifesto-busting national insurance hike in April to fund the NHS’ recovery from the pandemic.
His Government also brought in a windfall tax on gas and oil companies this month to soften the energy crisis for families.
A DoH 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.’