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World No Tobacco Day: "Fresh" calls to raise the age of sale for tobacco to 21

Fresh has called for bold new measures to protect young people from smoking including increasing age of sale to 21 in time for World No Tobacco Day (May 31).

It comes as a major new global study published in The Lancet on Thursday 27th May finds that three quarters of the world’s smokers have their first cigarette by 21 and the average age of regular smoking is 19. The Lancet calls on countries to act to protect young people.

The studies also show the staggering death toll caused by the tobacco industry as smoking rises globally, with smoking causing 7.7 million deaths in 2019, including one in five male deaths.

Modelling by academics at UCL shows that raising the age of sale to 21 would lead to a reduction in the number of smokers of 30% from 364,000 to 255,000 in year one. After year one, 18,000 new smokers a year would be prevented. Together this would create a significant reduction in smoking prevalence which would grow over time.

Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance said: “Smoking is an addiction which usually begins during childhood and we know from the North East, the average age that children start to smoke is even younger, at around 15. The global tobacco industry profits from the lifetime of addiction their products cause, robbing people in the North East of loved ones, including losing my own father to smoking 20 years ago, and denying them many years of healthy life.

“Tobacco is addictive and kills 1 in 2 smokers – no other product on our shop shelves does this, which is why it needs to be treated differently. We need action from the Government to consider next steps to make smoking history for more children in the future.”

Professor Robert West, Emeritus Professor at University College London, said: “Tobacco dependence is an addictive disorder that typically starts before the brain has matured, with the vast majority starting before the age of 21, and substantial uptake between 18 and 20. Our modelling shows that increasing the age of sale for tobacco to 21 will lead to an immediate and substantial decline in smoking prevalence among young adults, far greater than any other policy measure under consideration.”

The public also back this measure. The ASH/YouGov survey finds that increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21 has majority support from English adults (63% support 15% oppose), including those aged 18-24 who would be most affected by this policy (54% support 24% oppose) and 11-18 year olds (59% support 14% oppose) . It’s a popular policy with voters for all the major political parties, with two thirds of Conservative voters surveyed saying they support raising the age of sale to 21 (66% support,12% oppose).

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says now is the time for the Government to consult on the measure.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, says: “This powerful global study shows clearly that smoking is an addiction of youth. Raising the age of sale to 21 could protect more than a hundred thousand people from a lethal addiction which many will struggle their whole lives to quit. And that’s just in the first year. If we’re to achieve the Government’s vision of smoke free country by 2030 this is the kind of bold action that’s needed.”

According to the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report, “Of every 3 young smokers, only 1 will quit, and 1 of those remaining smokers will die from tobacco-related causes.” On average, cigarette smokers die 5 years younger than non-smokers, 10 years for lifelong smokers. Additionally, for every person who dies because of smoking, 30 people are living with a serious smoking-related illness.


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