The government rules out raising the age for selling cigarettes

The government ruled out raising the minimum age for selling cigarettes from 18 as part of efforts to make the nation smoke-free.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said the policy would focus on “helping people quit” rather than imposing bans, despite pressure from activists and MPs.

Mr. O’Brien presented a package of measures aimed at reducing smoking rates to below 5% by 2030 during a question-and-answer event on Tuesday at the conservative think tank Policy Exchange.

They include encouraging people to trade tobacco products for vapes, offering pregnant women up to £400 to quit smoking, and cracking down on the illegal sale of vapes to under-18s.

Activists at the event welcomed the announcement as “a step in the right direction” but told the minister it was “nowhere near” enough and called for tougher action to be taken.

Public member Shaun Walsh, head of public affairs at Cancer Research UK, highlighted a recent poll in The Times newspaper suggesting strong public support for raising the minimum age for selling cigarettes.

“We think this is too big a departure from the policy we have been involved in for many decades, which is to help people quit rather than banning adults from buying cigarettes,” the minister replied.

“So it’s not something we will pursue, instead we want to delve into measures to help people quit smoking rather than just doing it.”

Portraits of the British Parliament

Health Secretary Neil O’Brien unveils package of measures to reduce smoking rates (David Woolfall/UK Parliament/AP)

Mr O’Brien insisted that introducing more legal restrictions would be ‘too great a departure’ from the current policy, which he said ’emphasizes personal responsibility’.

It comes after Labor suggested cigarette sales could be phased out under opposition proposals to improve public health and ease strain on the NHS.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the party would consult on a range of measures, including a phased ban on New Zealand-style tobacco.

New Zealand is planning to impose an ever-increasing smoking age to prevent tobacco from being sold to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.

Last year, a leading journal led by Dr Javed Khan advocated a similar approach in England of ‘raising the selling age from 18, by one year, every year until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country”.

MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health have also previously recommended raising the selling age to 21.

O’Brien said he believes the measures announced on Wednesday will have a “substantial impact” but “never say these are the final measures we will take.”

Deborah Arnott, managing director of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said: “Vapes increase smokers’ chances of quitting successfully, as do vouchers for pregnant smokers, so these are positive steps in the right direction, but they’re not. nowhere near enough. “

Experts widely expect the pledge to make the nation smoke-free by 2030, which equates to getting smoking rates below 5%, to fail without further action.

Under the government’s new plans, vape starter kits will be offered to nearly one in five smokers in England in an ‘exchange to quit’ scheme, described by ministers as a world first.

Pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to quit smoking and a consultation will be launched on the introduction of mandatory smoking cessation advice on cigarette packets.

Funding for the Stop to Swap scheme, estimated by officials at around £45m over two years, will come from the Department of Health and Social Care budget.

O’Brien said that “in an ideal world” people would neither smoke tobacco nor use e-cigarettes, but that vaping is “substantially less harmful than smoking”.

Officials say 9% of women still smoke while pregnant in England and hope a financial boost along with behavioral support could see them all quitting by the end of the year.

While details have yet to be determined, officials expect the vouchers will be available throughout their pregnancy and could be up to £400 if they complete the programme.

Simon Clark, director of smokers’ rights group Forest, said: ‘Education is always better than coercion, so we’re delighted that the government seems to be favoring the carrot over the stick approach to quitting smoking.

“Vaping is a significantly less harmful alternative to smoking, so it makes sense to encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.

“If, however, adult smokers still prefer to smoke tobacco, the government must respect that choice.”

Alice Wiseman, a board member of the Association of Public Health Directors (ADPH) and addiction policy officer, said: “While we welcome this renewed Government commitment on tobacco control, the measures outlined today are not up to what is necessary to achieve the ambition of Smokeless 2030.”

He added: “Nine months ago, the Khan Review set a clear path forward for the government, which has had widespread support from the public health community.

“Although some measures are now being implemented, too many – such as the recommended increase in the selling age – have been overlooked and with less than seven years to go, we are in serious risk of missing the 2030 target.”

Sarah MacFadyen, of the charity Asthma + Lung UK, said ‘vaping won’t work for everyone’ and that smokers need ‘smoking cessation services that offer personalized support, adequately funded through an industry levy of tobacco”.

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