The age at which tobacco products can be bought in England should increase by one year, every year until their use has been eradicated, a government-commissioned review has suggested.
An extra £125mn a year on anti-smoking policies and the promotion of vaping products were also among recommendations made in the independent study, which is meant to help the government reach its ambition to be “smoke-free” by 2030.
The smoke-free pledge requires that only 5 per cent of the English population smoke in eight years, compared with the roughly 12 per cent who do so now. The current age at which tobacco products can be bought legally is 18.
“My review found that without further action, England will miss the smoke-free-2030 target by at least seven years, and the poorest areas in society will not meet it until 2044,’‘ said Javed Khan, the former head of children’s charity Barnardo’s who led the review.
The report’s recommendations, which included that NHS staff “must do more” to make patients quit smoking, will be considered as part of the government’s agenda to address inequalities in health and care across the country.
Other suggestions included “stop smoking” campaigns across television, radio and social media platforms such as TikTok, and a review of flavours used in vaping devices to ensure they don’t appeal to and help younger generations become addicted.
“England’s richest people live on average a decade longer than the poorest [and] the leading cause for this difference is smoking,” said Deborah Arnott, head of public health group Action on Smoking and Health.
Smoking remains a leading cause of illness and death around the world, despite evidence of its harm having emerged decades ago. Khan’s report said that in the UK about 64,000 people die from smoking each year, roughly twice as many that died from coronavirus in the past 12 months.
Governments around the world have made attempts to reduce the use of cigarettes, which because of nicotine are highly addictive, including tax rises, marketing restrictions and bans on smoking in public spaces.
Such legislation has spurred tobacco groups to release modern, so-called reduced-risk products, such as vapes, heated tobacco devices and oral nicotine pouches. Companies have, however, made varying levels of investment into the looming smoke-free future.
Owen Bennett, analyst at Jefferies, said that while a UK crackdown on smoking would present a risk to companies that still mainly focus on cigarettes, such as Imperial Brands, it might be regarded as an opportunity for British American Tobacco, which sells smoke-free products such as its Velo pouches and the vape Vuse.
Kingsley Wheaton, BAT’s chief marketing officer, said the company was still reviewing the report, but added: “We welcome further recognition of the potential for vapour products to reduce the harm caused by cigarettes.”
Imperial said it would be up to the government to decide what measures to take over the use of tobacco, adding that it looked forward to “sharing our views as part of the consultation process”.
Shares in both BAT and Imperial slid by just over 1 per cent on Thursday.