UK lawmakers may decide to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand by banning young Britons from buying cigarettes in a bid to stop future generations taking up the habit. The move would hope to tackle smoking levels in the UK, which remain stubbornly high in the country’s poorest areas despite previous measures brought in by the Government to curb the habit.
A new anti-smoking tsar appointed by the Government to conduct an independent review on how to stop the public smoking said he is considering recommending a ban similar to the one introduced in New Zealand in December 2021.
Under the new legislation, anyone born after 2008 will not be allowed to buy cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime.
The law is part of a sweeping crackdown on smoking announced by New Zealand’s health ministry late last year in a bid to eventually phase out smoking in the country.
Javed Khan, the former CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s and the UK’s new anti-smoking tsar, is leading the independent review into how to tackle smoking in Britain.
He told the Times: “We are thinking seriously about the age of sale.”
He added: “Is that [New Zealand] the right model? Is there an argument for raising the age to 19, 20, 21, or even 25?”
Mr Khan is set to present his report including suggestions of how to tackle smoking to Health Secretary Sajid Javid next month.
He said that if “nothing different is done” about the country’s approach to cigarettes then the Government would fall far short of its aim to make England smoke-free by the end of the decade.
Smoking rates have fallen steadily across the country over the past two decades, with cigarette use dropping from 15.8 percent in 2019 and 14.5 percent in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics.
However, rates of smoking have remained stubbornly high in the country’s least wealthy areas compared to more affluent regions, with smoking still seen as the biggest driver of health inequality in Britain.
There are still six million smokers in England, where smoking among people aged 18-30 shot up by 25 percent during the first lockdown with the equivalent of 652,000 more young adults taking up the habit compared to before the pandemic.
Experts have partly attributed the rise to stress caused by the spread of COVID-19, however they have warned it could be the start of a trend.
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The country’s poorest areas are expected to fall far short of the Government’s target to be smoke-free by 2030, instead forecasted to hit the target until the mid-2040s.
Higher smoking rates in poorer communities is linked to lower ‘healthy life expectancy’ and more preventable deaths.
Meanwhile, the richest regions are predicted to meet the target earlier than planned by 2025.
Cancer Research UK estimates that Britain is currently set to miss the target and will not be smoke-free until 2037.
Tobacco remains the single largest cause of preventable deaths in the UK, with 64,000 people dying from smoking-related conditions in 2019.
Smoking among pregnant women is also a key concern, with 10 percent of pregnant women still smoking up until the birth.
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Mr Khan’s report is looking into different ways to combat smoking in youngsters including campaigns on social media platforms led by young people.
He said: “Just look at the Covid experience, mass marketing has a big effect, it really works.
“The Government went hell for leather, it made an enormous difference in vaccination rates.
“So why not do something like that again, if we really want to save people’s lives.”
He said the Government had to be “bold and brave” if they hoped to eradicate the problem.
His review is looking at a range of possible solutions, from escalating pilot schemes that offer pregnant women financial incentives to quit and community initiatives aimed at smokers in social housing.
The smoking tsar said that a culture of thinking the “job is done” when it comes to tackling smoking has led the Government to ignore possible solutions to combat the habit.