The legal age of sale should increase from 18, at which it currently stands, an independent review by Dr Javed Khan said.
Raising the age is seen as crucial in eradicating smoking by 2030 and while smoking rates have been falling since the 1970s, there are still almost six million smokers in England - and seven million across the UK.
Tobacco remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death, the Department of Health said, and smoking currently costs the National Health Service £2.5 billion per year.
What does the review recommend?
Among the 15 recommended interventions, Dr Khan said there should be an extra £125 million per year invested in smoke-free policies, with a further £70 million per year ring fenced for stop smoking services.
The review also recommends the promotion of vapes as an effective “swap to stop” tool to help people quit smoking, as well as improving prevention in the NHS so that smokers are offered advice and support to quit at every interaction they have with health services.
Dr Khan, former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, also called for a tobacco licence for retailers to limit the availability of tobacco across the country, a rethink of the way cigarette sticks and packets look to reduce their appeal, and a mass media campaign to encourage smokers to quit.
He said: “Without immediate and sustained action, England will miss the smoke-free target by many years and most likely decades.
“A smoke-free society should be a social norm – but to achieve this, we must do more to stop people taking up smoking, help those who already smoke and support those who are disproportionately impacted by smoking.
“My holistic set of recommendations for government will deliver this, whilst saving lives, saving money and addressing the health disparities associated with smoking.
“My proposals are not just a plan for this government, but successive governments too. To truly achieve a smoke-free society in our great country, we need to commit to making smoking obsolete, once and for all.”
What is the current legal smoking age in the UK?
Currently, you must be aged 18 or over to legally buy cigarettes in the UK.
Smoking in enclosed public spaces and workplaces was made illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2007, following on from Scotland which introduced legislation the year before.
On 1 October 2015 it became illegal:
- for retailers to sell electronic cigarettes or e-liquids to someone under 18
- for adults to buy (or try to buy) tobacco products or e-cigarettes for someone under 18
- to smoke in private vehicles that are carrying someone under 18
Speaking ahead of the review’s publication, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday (8 June) that he is keen to reduce smoking rates in the UK.
He said: “One thing I am very keen on is tackling the health disparities that exist in our country – and when our biggest killer is cancer and the biggest cause of that, of course, is smoking, and that is why I commissioned an independent review by Javid Khan.”
He added: “It is right that we look at ways, radical ways, to reduce smoking rates in this country, they have come down significantly to around 15% of adults.
“We have a commitment in our manifesto to have a smoke-free Britain, that’s getting prevalence down to 5% or less, by 2030. I’m determined that we do that.”