The legal smoking age in England could reportedly be raised from 18 to 21 after a “radical” overhaul of plans to make the country smoke-free by 2030.
An independent assessment commissioned by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, and led by Javed Khan, the former director of Barnardo’s children’s charity, is also expected to support new taxes on tobacco companies’ profits, the Telegraph said.
The review is also expected to recommend the NHS step up its efforts to encourage smokers, particularly among pregnant women, to switch to vaping and e-cigarettes.
The Telegraph also reports that Javid, who quit smoking after becoming health minister last year, had considered raising the minimum age to 25. He would also support sweeping changes to government tobacco policies, including tightening sales rules.
Khan has said he supports a “polluter pays” approach that would force tobacco companies to fund anti-smoking policies. When the review was launched, he said his findings “would help highlight key interventions that could help the government achieve its ambitions to be smoke-free and tackle health inequalities by 2030”.
A source with whom Khan consulted during the review told the Telegraph: “The stance he took in the encounters I’ve had with him has been quite radical.”
Three sources reportedly said the assessment, carried out in February, was a “political cover” for Javid to prevent Downing Street from dropping the 2030 target over fears the Conservatives would be accused of attempting a ” babysitting state”.
The minimum age for tobacco purchases was last raised from 16 to 18 in England, Scotland and Wales in 2007. in the legislation of the previous year.
Javid is alleged to have looked at policies in the US, where the legal age is 21, and New Zealand, where buying cigarettes will forever be illegal for anyone currently 14 and under.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not believe the age should be raised as 18 is recognized by the government as the threshold of legal responsibility, the Telegraph reports.
The review was initially scheduled to be published next week, but has since been postponed. All recommendations arising from the report would be consulted before any new policies are announced.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Care said: “Tackling problems such as smoking is a priority for the Agency for Health Improvement and Inequalities and an important part of the government’s leveling up. That’s why we launched the independent assessment 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 addressing the stark health disparities associated with tobacco use – and we look forward to the report in due course.”