Commenting on the study in The Lancet showing three quarters of the world’s smokers have their first cigarette by 21, Action on Smoking and Health has called on the government to consult on raising the age of sale for tobacco in England.
A major new global study published in The Lancet on May 27 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.
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 per cent 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.
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 backs this measure. The ASH/YouGov survey finds that increasing the age of sale from 18 to 21 has majority support from English adults (63 per cent support, 15 per cent oppose), including those aged 18-24 who would be most affected by this policy (54 per cent, support 24 per cent oppose) and 11–18-year-olds (59 per cent support, 14 per cent 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 per cent support, 12 per cent 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 three young smokers, only one will quit, and one of those remaining smokers will die from tobacco-related causes.” On average, cigarette smokers die five years younger than non-smokers, and it’s 10 years for lifelong smokers. Additionally, for every person who dies because of smoking, 30 people are living with a serious smoking-related illness.